May, 2004
Washington Watch
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



Gao, Congress & HUD Moving on ASHI Issues

RANDALL PENCE

Policy events in Washington, D.C., have been moving
quickly. Prior to Easter recess, ASHI’s expanding pro-home inspection agenda generated a flurry of activity both on Capitol Hill and in federal agencies such as HUD and GAO.   

ASHI’s lobbyist in the nation’s capitol, Randall Pence of Capitol Hill Advocates, Inc., reports the following developments in response to ASHI’s advocacy inside the beltway.   

GAO to Issue Report on Home Inspection Issues

In early April, Pence learned the Government Accounting Office (GAO) staff is nearing completion of its landmark study of home inspection and related issues with the Department of Urban Develop-ment (HUD). The GAO has cast a wide net in its efforts to develop a comprehensive report.  In April, it was preparing the table of contents and footnotes. According to Pence, the GAO has set an internal deadline of April 30 for submitting the report to Congress. Congress will hold it for 30 days for internal study and reaction, and then release it to the public. It appears ASHI’s efforts to provide useful information have been successful. It is hoped the report will directly reference ASHI’s key policies, especially the Standards of Practice.

Homebuyer Counseling Bill Targets Appraisal/Inspection Confusion

Part of ASHI’s message to Congress has been that homebuyers need help in buying homes, that Congress should endorse this view, and that some of the help should come from home inspectors.  

Now Congress has introduced legislation, HR3938, which would require HUD to provide counseling to certain homebuyers, first-time buyers and vulnerable populations (identical to ASHI’s recommendations). The bill specifically directs that HUD include in certified counseling programs a message to homebuyers explaining the difference between appraisals and home inspect-ions—a first in federal legislation.  

At the invitation of the House Subcommittee on Housing, ASHI provided testimony in support of the bill at a hearing on March 18, 2004. ASHI is asking that it be amended to require certified counseling programs to include a message advising homebuyers to obtain home inspections. The bill’s progress is being tracked closely.

RESPA Reform/Bundling – Dead or on Life Support

As of early April, HUD had withdrawn its controversial RESPA reform package from consideration by the White House Office of Management and Budget. While HUD may still attempt to take another run at RESPA, this procedural move signals to many in Washington, D.C., that HUD has accepted political defeat on the proposal. ASHI strongly opposed the RESPA proposal, as did many other organizations.    

There had been concern HUD would forge ahead on a RESPA regulation that would enable bundling of services, which could be a terrible disadvantage for home inspectors. ASHI and several other home sale-related organizations lobbied Congress intensely to stop HUD from moving to a final rule allowing bundling. A recent letter of opposition, signed by more than 200 members of the House, was a sobering signal to HUD that it faced a slugfest if it tried to finalize the new rule. This is an example of how political action can have a stunning impact on thwarting unpopular agency policies.  

Bush’s Zero-Down payment Initiative

President George W. Bush has launched an effort to boost home ownership, and home sales and development even further by proposing a zero-down payment initiative. Rep Tiberi (R-OH) has introduced the authorizing legislation in the House.

A hearing before the House Subcommit-tee on Housing was held March 24, 2004. ASHI testified in support of the zero-down concept because of its benefits in spurring home sales. ASHI further argued that making home purchases available to people with the most limited economic means should be balanced with more assistance and counseling, including home inspections. The Society supports language requiring specifically that zero-down homebuyers be informed about the value of home inspections.      

Positive Changes to VC Sheet

HUD’s revisions to the “For Your Protection – Get a Home Inspection” document, which incorporates suggestions generated by ASHI, have improved it. Homebuyers now must declare they make conscious decisions about whether or not to obtain home inspections and must accept responsibility for that decision. ASHI appreciates HUD’s willingness to consider changes sharpening the message to homebuyers on the value of home inspections and how home inspections differ from appraisals.

With that positive result, ASHI may want to request changes to other documents such as the checklist appearance of the Home-buyer Summary Sheet, which looks like a technical checklist.     

A Seat at the Table for ASHI Home Inspectors

Several years ago, ASHI established a goal to gain a seat at the table in Washington, D.C., as the representative of the profession and the advocate of the consumer. There has been significant progress in this direction. ASHI has been able to influence major federal policies, and will continue to work on behalf of its members, the profession and consumers.