I recently sent this letter to the editor of the ASHI Reporter, the magazine of the American Society of Home Inspectors. Since I doubt seriously that they will publish it, I thought I’d post it here as well.
“Inspecting New Construction
While pondering over the idea of penning a technical article on new construction inspections for the upcoming December issue of the ASHI Reporter, I felt I should say this first.
If your business is not located in Texas – be happy. Properly inspecting new residential construction here is a serious challenge. Builders are not regulated, i.e. need not be licensed, bonded, insured, educated – nada. It may be similar in other states, but is certainly not as blatant as it is where I work.
Municipal inspectors are, I suspect, like they are nearly everywhere; overworked, under-paid, and questionably-proficient in building code enforcement. Even those who are in the know, well-meaning, and have a solid ethical base are often not allowed to be too strict, if they value their jobs. Builders are notorious for putting pressure on building officials, either via payola or by threat of moving their building sites to another jurisdiction where less enforcement will be encountered.
With both home prices and mortgage interest rates soaring it has become crystal clear to the home buying public that independent interim inspections are a must. In Texas, any inspector licensed by the Texas Real Estate Commission is allowed to inspect new homes under construction. This is certainly questionable, since they specifically exclude any building code knowledge from their SOP. This is also the case with the major inspection associations – including ASHI.
Where does this leave the home buyers? In peril. As professional inspectors it is our duty to inform clients of material and safety defects found during an inspection. If we are not ourselves intimately familiar with the minimum construction standards, i.e. the building, electrical, and energy efficiency codes, how will that work? It will not.
I think it is high time that ASHI makes the long overdue move toward requiring ICC certification for its members and assisting them in obtaining it. You cannot simply pretend to be the best, you must make proactive moves to ensure that you are indeed the best. One can spout all of the ethics one likes, but without action, it is just so much hot air.
Certification is the only way that one can prove knowledge of a process such as building. Without it, one is unaware of the very bones of construction regulations, not to mention the nuances that come by actually building homes – another prerequisite lacking for association memberships or state licensing.
The term “ASHI Certified Inspector” would take on a much broader and authoritative meaning if backed by more than the current minimalist SOP.
Flipping through the pages of the ASHI Reporter over the past few years gives me a clear view of the professional liability insurance industry’s influence that appears to be predominant. Insurance carriers do what is best for their bottom line by spouting fear-inducing mantras such as “do not exceed your SOP” or “do not quote codes”. In other words, be minimalists. Do the very least imaginable in order to protect your insurance company’s assets.
I apologize if the title of this article lured you in with the idea of discussing technical aspects of new construction inspections. I assume that, for the overwhelming majority of you who lack boots-on-the-ground construction experience and code certification, that might be a bridge too far.”