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

Conflicts of Interest: Realtors vs. Home Inspectors

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: In a recent article, you stated that it was an agent’s responsibility to recommend a home inspector. I argue that such a recommendation is a clear conflict of interest. The agent’s interest is in closing the sale and getting a commission check. The home inspector’s interest is in future referrals from the agent. No matter how you cut it, that kind of relationship compromises a home inspector’s integrity. I’ve had two bad experiences with home inspectors who were recommended by real estate agents, and that has taught me to shop for my own inspector. That’s the kind of advice you should be giving your readers. Al

Dear Al: The article you refer to involved an agent who advised her buyers not to hire a home inspector. The subject of that column was to condemn that kind of unethical practice. The point was not that an agent should “recommend a home inspector,” but that agents should advise every buyer to have a home inspection.

A repeated subject of this column has been the complex issue of inspector referrals by agents and brokers. Some articles have discussed agents who advise against having home inspections, while others have shined the spotlight on those who refer marginally qualified inspectors to their clients. The referral relationship between agents and home inspectors is not what compromises an inspector’s integrity. Referrals merely test the integrity that an inspector may or may not inherently possess. Inspectors who skew the findings of reports to promote future referrals are condemned by their own lack of common decency, not by the conflict of interest posed by real estate agents. Home inspectors with well-founded values serve the interests of homebuyers, not the pressures imposed by agents.

These same ethical standards for disclosure can be applied to agents and brokers. Those who are truly honest and ethical promote full disclosure and recommend the most qualified inspectors. Those who lack these values betray the interests of their clients by recommending unqualified inspectors or by convincing their clients to forego an inspection; all for the sake of a commission check.

In the real estate marketplace where I do business, there are sufficient numbers of ethical agents to fill the schedule of an honest and meticulous home inspector (most of the time). Whether this is true everywhere is difficult to say. But the bottom line is this: Any home inspector who abbreviates the thoroughness or accuracy of an inspection report for the sake of agent referrals has essentially stolen the money of the homebuyers who paid for the inspection. Likewise, any agent who advises against having an inspection, or who recommends marginally qualified home inspectors, or who labels the best inspectors as “deal killers,” is no better than a bar room grifter in professional clothing.

The practice of uncompromised defect disclosure is the ethical heart and soul of real estate related professions. It measures equally the moral worth of agents, brokers, and home inspectors. Anyone who devalues that practice should do some serious soul searching or should simply find another line of work.