Featuring America's Home Inspector: Nationally Syndicated Columnist, Barry Stone

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: As editor of a paper that publishes your column, I’ve received complaints from real estate advertisers who find the tone of your articles to be anti-Realtor. After reviewing some recent columns, I tend to agree with them. When recurrent articles deal with unscrupulous real estate agents, a negative theme and negative perceptions can form. The tone of such articles creates an “us vs. them” mentality that isn’t good for anyone involved. I realize there are bad agents out there, just as there are bad inspectors, and you have written about both. But I think you should touch on other topics for variety. Readers would be better served if, for example, you would address the item-by-item details of a home inspection.  Mark

Dear Mark: Let me begin by praising the numerous first class real estate agents with whom I am personally acquainted. There are many outstanding Realtors who bring credit and good repute to the real estate profession — hard working agents who truly represent the best interests of their clients; who conduct their work with the highest ethical standards; who truly deserve every dollar of the commissions they earn.

The intent of this column has never been “us-versus-them”; nor has it been to paint real estate professionals with a broad brush, either positive or negative. As you say, there are good and bad agents out there, just as there are good and bad home inspectors; just as there are good and bad members of every profession.

The content of this column is largely dictated by questions and comments from readers, and many of these involve grievances against Realtors and home inspectors. If human nature tended toward praise rather than complaint, I would probably hear from more people who were satisfied with the top-notch agents and inspectors who have served them. Instead, I receive consumer complaints involving very real problems. The purpose of this column is to address those issues from an honest and unbiased perspective; to educate buyers, sellers, agents, and others about the pitfalls of real estate disclosure and best ways to deal with property defects.

In the years from 1996 through 2005, the real estate market thrived throughout most of the United States, and this booming activity caused many people to enter the real estate and home inspection professions. As a result, there were many inexperienced home inspectors, with little ability to provide homebuyers with adequate disclosure. Unfortunately, these novice inspectors obtained referrals from misguided real estate agents, and unsuspecting homebuyers made bad purchase decisions on the basis of faulty inspection reports.

Some of the agents who referred those inspectors were novices themselves, unaware of the vast quality differences among home inspectors. At the same time, there were experienced agents who should have known better, but who failed to exercise ethical discretion when referring home inspectors to their clients.

So what is the solution?

Leaders in the real estate profession, including brokers and Realtor associations, need to provide agents with better clarity regarding disclosure. This emphasis should be two-fold. First is the matter of ethics: Buyers should be fully informed of property defects because total disclosure is the only honest way to do business. It is the way that everyone wants to be treated. Second is the matter of legal liability: Faulty disclosure exposes agents and sellers to potential lawsuits. If the altruism of ethical disclosure is not sufficient cause, then the need to avoid litigation should be. For either reason or for both reasons, disclosure of property defects is good for everyone.

Agents should become familiar with the best home inspectors in their areas of business and should only recommend those inspectors. Many good agents have made this a practice throughout their careers. When other agents follow that good example, consumer complaints will cease to fill my inbox, and articles that offend agents will no longer be necessary.