Today, 32 states have regulations in place that affect home inspectors. That leaves 18 without regulation. No one will argue that members in the 18 unregulated states can afford to ignore legislation, but what about members in the 32 that are regulated? They can’t be asleep at the wheel, either.
Here is a real-life lesson from North Carolina, where the governor just weighed in on the side of home inspectors who are fighting a proposed change to the current licensing law — a change that would have compromised the safety of homebuyers.
As we go to press, inspectors in North Carolina are waiting to hear if the state Home Inspector Licensure Board will heed the governor’s message: “I strongly urge members of the board to remove this proposed change from the agenda, until such time as a broad consensus can be reached among North Carolina home inspectors. As long as reasonable people believe that the change could result in consumers having less information about safety issues important for themselves and their families, we should take no chances and must err on the side of safety.”
ASHI members provided the history behind this dramatic, positive turn of events.
North Carolina Inspectors Object to Licensing Board’s Action
By David Jones and John Woodmansee
In 1994, ASHI President Cole Greenberg warned our NC-ASHI chapter that actively supporting a program for licensing North Carolina home inspectors would be like swimming in murky waters with alligators. We inspectors insisted that it made sense to be proactive, guiding the regulation process rather than resisting the inevitable and being left with only a victim’s future where building industry and realty interests controlled what home inspectors do.
The local ASHI chapter worked with other groups to write a statute that created a Licensure Board composed of four home inspectors and one representative from each of the following groups: real estate practitioner builders, the public, plus a designee from the state Department of Insurance, which oversees the board and code compliance.
Soon after, ASHI and the N.C. Home Inspector Licensure Board (NCHILB) joined forces to create a rigorous exam that eventually became the state exam, and the ASHI exam that eventually evolved into the National Home Inspector Examination.
About five years into our licensing, the board was hearing unhappy rumblings about troublesome inspection reports and how poorly done reports were angering real estate people. No matter whose side you are on, unreasonable judgments, confusing statements and lousy grammar are not what anyone wants in a home inspection report.
We on the board knew that the real estate practitioners had their answer: a standard form to be required for every inspection. Our stopgap solution was to require a summary in which all the defects would be listed. Defects were those things not functioning as intended and anything adversely affecting the habitability of the property. Exclusions, limitations and advice about upgrading and improving the functioning of the property were to be left in the full report. The summary was a sensible thing to require, and we hoped that this simpler, focused document would make everyone’s report easier to manage. The summary became the working document in real estate transactions because it laid out all the important matters in a simple format.
In 2004, one of the ASHI members on the board was replaced by someone who had previously been a home inspector and still held a license, but was employed by the state. In January 2005, the real estate member of the board introduced a motion “to develop and adopt a standard report form to be used by all home inspectors in North Carolina.” At the time, one of the home inspectors was chairman of the licensure board and could only vote to break a tie. The measure passed 5-2, with both actual home inspector members voting against the measure and all others voting in favor.
Since that time, a committee composed mostly of home inspectors working on this issue managed to steer it toward a standardized format, rather than a form. The standard format would follow the same sequence as the Standards of Practice in the summary and body of the report. While inspectors were not at all happy about this, it seemed like a compromise that would be acceptable. However, in March of 2007, the state employee “inspector” introduced a substitute measure that would not allow the inclusion of safety issues in the summary unless they required immediate repair or investigation. This has the effect of keeping reporting of things like missing railings on old porches, wide picket spacing on older decks, ungrounded receptacles near plumbing fixtures in older houses, etc., out of the summary. Supposedly, the reason for this was to make the summary “fact-based,” eliminating “opinion” from it, but to us it appeared that the change was intended to take these items off the bargaining table in the negotiations between buyer and seller. All of the inspectors in North Carolina are currently working hard to change the opinion of the board, using the public media as much as possible to shed light on this unwise measure.
We believe there are lessons to be learned from our experience.
Make sure that the composition of the board is properly defined – home inspectors should actually be practicing, full-time home inspectors.
If at all possible, do not allow members of other special interest groups to be on the board.
If there are members of the public on the board, make sure that they do not have ties to other real estate-related special interest groups.
Be vigilant about monitoring what other special interest groups are doing. It’s much easier to head off adverse measures if you hear about them ahead of time.
Don’t allow contractors, architects and engineers to use their credentials to obtain a home inspector license unless they can show some experience that will be useful. Some of the worst inspectors in our state got their licenses by becoming licensed building contractors first, then passing the home inspector exam, and became home inspectors without any experience in building or inspecting.
David Jones is a 24-year veteran home inspector/owner of Expert Inspection Service, Inc., Chapel Hill, N.C., and is currently a member of the NCHILB. John Woodmansee owns The Home Inspector Co., Winston-Salem, N.C. He was a founding member of the NCHILB and served on the board for seven years. Both are longtime ASHI members and past presidents of NC-ASHI®.