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Growth in building spurs call for more inspections

March 21, 2005|by JAMES M. WOODARD/Copley News Service

As a result of sustained growth in today's real estate industry, the demand for home inspections is also booming. To meet this demand, there has been significant growth in the number of home inspectors - currently about 25,000 nationwide.

However, more might not necessarily mean better. That's because home inspectors generally operate with little government oversight.

"It's difficult to know for sure how many inspectors there are because only 29 states currently have any type of legislation or regulation requirements for home inspectors," said Lisa Gunggoll, a spokeswoman for the American Society of Home Inspectors, or ASHI.

In California, for example, the law simply prohibits unethical home inspection practices, including repairing properties that home inspectors have inspected in the previous 12 months. And the law encourages courts to consider the code of ethics of established inspection-related associations, including ASHI, when determining whether an inspection meets required standard of care.

There are many highly qualified professional with a "home inspector" sign on their door, but there are also individuals working inspecting homes with limited background and knowledge in the field. If you are in need of an inspector, be sure to select one with solid experience and many positive references. It is vital that you personally check those references.

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There's little doubt about the value of an unbiased inspection when a home is about to be sold. It provides peace of mind to consumers about to make the biggest investment of their lives. The cost - typically from $250 to $500 - is paid by either the home seller or buyer, or split between those parties.

Most real estate brokers recommend having a home inspected before it is sold. It's the proper and ethical stand to take. But in my conversations with brokers, they tell me they wish inspectors would disappear.

Brokers fear inspection reports that include negative but insignificant comments about the house, often included to show the owner the inspector did his job. Those comments can scuttle a sale that has been in the works for weeks or months.

Some reports include items under the heading, "needs repair." The noted item might be operating perfectly, but the inspector feels it could soon become inoperative.

It's important to remember that inspectors are not repair specialists or building code enforcers. Inspectors should stick to their roles of determining the condition of property and structures. This includes observations of inoperative systems or appliances and unsafe or hazardous conditions.

Competent inspectors should avoid clear conflicts of interest. They should refrain from offering to personally repair or replace items noted in their reports, or refer an individual or company to do the job.

In the new book, "Idiot's Guide to Home Inspections," a few sure signs of a bad inspector are noted:

The inspector completes the entire inspection in less than 10 minutes.

The inspector offers to give you a "good deal" on home repairs, or tells you his cousin can fix the crack in your driveway.

The inspector writes his inspection report in crayon on the back of a pizza box.

While most inspection contracts are signed during closing, many sellers are engaging the services of an experienced, professional inspector just before placing their homes on the market. They feel a positive inspection report will enhance the sale.

Send inquiries to James M. Woodard, Copley News Service, P.O. Box 120190, San Diego, CA 92112-0190. Questions may be used in future columns; personal responses should not be expected.

Copley News Service

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