Matthew Steger WIN Elizabethtown

Home Inspector Code of Ethics and PA Act 114

I often get asked if a seller or listing agent can attend a buyer’s home inspection and just as often get asked by a listing agent afterwards "how did the inspection go?" (for a home buyer’s inspection). I can’t tell a seller or their listing agent that they can’t be in the home during the home inspection, but this does greatly legally limit my communication with my client. Our home inspector Code of Ethics comes into play here.

The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) Code Of Ethics states that “Inspectors shall not disclose inspection results or client information without client approval. Inspectors, at their discretion, may disclose observed immediate safety hazards to occupants exposed to such hazards, when feasible.”

These statements make it pretty clear that home inspectors shall not discuss the home inspection findings to anyone except our client (most often, this is the home’s buyer). The only exception provided for in the ASHI Code of Ethics concerns the situation when the inspector finds, what he considers, an immediate safety hazard. Then the home inspector may bring the specific potential hazard to the attention of the home’s tenant, seller, or listing agent. A good example of this would be a natural gas leak in the home. Any prudent home inspector, once finding a natural gas leak in a home should alert the home’s tenant, seller, or listing agent. Not doing so can open the inspector up for additional liability issues.

Most home inspectors’ inspection agreements have a specific location where the client gives the inspector specific permission to provide the inspection report to the client’s own real estate agent. Only after the client approves (normally by signing or initialing) this clause in the inspection agreement can the home inspector discuss or give a copy of the inspection report to the client’s real estate agent.

This issue goes one step further than a simple Code of Ethics issue. PA Act 114 (also called the “PA Home Inspection Compliance Law’) requires PA home inspectors to comply with the Code of Ethics of the association to which the inspector belongs. Discussing the inspection with, or providing a copy of the home inspection report to, anyone but the client and his/her real estate agent (assuming permission has been given) may be considered a violation of PA law since doing so would also be in violation of the ASHI Code of Ethics.

My job function entails communicating the findings of the home inspection with my client. If the seller and/or listing agent is present, I am greatly limited on how I can communicate with my client and his/her real estate agent and this can adversely affect the service that I am providing to my client. My client has every right to attend his/her own home inspection, receive a detailed explanation in real time as to whatever I may find, and pays a good amount of money for the service. My duty is to my client during and after the home inspection is performed. If I can’t discuss my inspection findings with my client in real time throughout the inspection process, the client loses value in the process and potentially loses an opportunity to learn the true condition of the home in real time or have concerns addressed at that time.

I had an inspection a few years ago that the seller would not leave the home, even after the buyer and I kindly asked for about 3 hours of privacy to perform the inspection. When I set up my inspection appointments with the listing agent or office, I always make it be known that the inspection will normally take about 3 hours as to help prepare the seller. My client (the buyer) was very adamant about the seller not being present for their home inspection. After a 20 minute heated discussion between the buyer and seller (I decided it was best for me to go back outside and wisely stay out of the argument), both sides finally agreed to allow the home inspection to take place with the seller in the home and the buyer waiting in the driveway for 3 hours while I did my job inside and outside. This was not a situation any home inspector, seller, or buyer should ever have to find themselves in.

I believe the situation could have easily been prevented by the listing agent educating their seller, early on, as to the details of the inspection process, such as: (1.) the amount of time needed to perform the inspection, (2.) that sufficient physical access to the attic/basement as well as all systems and major appliances is needed (the inspector does not move things), (3.) that the buyer and their real estate agent will be attending, just to name a few. In the situation mentioned above, the seller also had no idea that the inspector needed access up into the attic, would be running water, or that we had to run the heating and cooling. These are all basic parts of performing the home inspection, however, I find that the entire inspection process is totally foreign to most sellers.

For a home buyer’s inspection, the ideal situation is for the seller to leave the home during the home inspection so that the inspector can freely inspect and discuss the inspection findings with the buyer and answer questions in real time throughout the process. It is in the sellers best interest to allow the home inspection to proceed smoothly because it will help get them one step closer to settlement, and isn’t that the ultimate goal for any seller? Another issue that I have heard about (from some local Realtors) on a few occasions is some home inspectors discussing the financial negotiations with the buyer. Giving a 'top 3' list of what items are most important to have addressed is what most buyers (and their real estate agents) expect at the end of the inspection, but an inspector trying to get involved in the negotiations or even the inspector telling his client "I don't think you should buy this home", I feel, is out of line and far outside the scope of the work that we are hired to perform. The home inspector is hired to be the unbiased 3rd party technical advisor as to the home's condition but is not privy to the sales contract and the financial details of the home purchase.

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© 2016 Matthew Steger

Matthew Steger, owner/inspector of WIN Home Inspection, is a Certified Level 1 Infrared Thermographer, an ASHI Certified Inspector (ACI), and an electrical engineer. He can be reached at: 717-361-9467 or msteger@wini.com.

WIN Home Inspection has provided a wide array of home inspection services in the Lancaster, PA area since 2002. This article was authored by Matthew Steger, ACI - owner of WIN Home Inspection in Lancaster, PA. No article, or portion thereof, may be reproduced or copied without prior written consent of Matthew Steger.