Upon buying her first home in 2012, ‘bbelly’ felt she was being prudent in obtaining a pre-purchase building inspection.
Following a report finding only that one corner of the lounge needed re-blocking, the tile adhesive was shot and the bathroom needed re-tiling, the fence was leaning and there was a crack in the driveway, the Whirlpool forum participant went ahead. After discovering a large hole in one bedroom floor, rotten floorboards, a rotten bathroom (the shower wall collapsed after she kicked it lightly) and mold on the walls of the adjacent bedroom, however, she was left with a very bad taste in her mouth.
Whilst this account cannot be independently verified, it is far from the only case of things going wrong. Yet outside of Queensland, there is no requirement whatsoever for inspectors to be licensed. According to a number of commentators, this is creating a situation whereby potentially shonky dealers are operating in an unaccountable environment.
One such commentator is Housesafe Training and Education managing director Howard Ryan. In a recent interview, Ryan told Sourceable that he would typically get around five enquiries each week from people who had no experience within the building industry yet wanted to set themselves up as a pre-purchase building inspector. Prior to starting up his current role as a trainer of inspectors, Ryan also said he would be asked to act as an expert witness for home buyers who were taking legal action against their inspector and would frequently find that the inspector in question had no background in building whatsoever.
“These guys are taxi drivers, they are accountants, they are ex-policemen,” Ryan said. “They are the people who just seem to think they can pick up a torch and paper and tout themselves as a property inspector ...”
“Over 80 percent of the industry is unaccredited, unqualified and uninsured.”
According to Ryan, not having mandatory licensing is leading a loss of confidence on the part of consumers and eventually to litigation. Whilst many unqualified inspectors would pick up inadequate drainage after rain hits the ground, for example, they would miss the fact that in many cases, the water would pool up against the side, back, front or rear of house before going under the concrete slab and therefore causing significant problems relating to mold, settlement and disturbance – potentially costing the home owner tens of thousands of dollars in rectification work. Problems with structural integrity of roofs, such as missing struts or truss that had been inappropriately cut for a skylight are another area which is easily missed, he said.
Builders Collective of Australia chief executive officer Phil Dwyer agrees, adding that he would like to see not just pre-purchase inspectors but all building consultants registered and held accountable for their reports.
“Only Queensland register building consultants, any of the ones from Victoria, ACT or anywhere else in the country are not accountable to anyone,” Dwyer said.
“There are definitely legitimate people that will do a good job, but by golly, there are an enormous amount of them that should not even be there let alone operating.”
Mandatory registration is also supported by building consultant industry groups. In South Australia, for example, the Association of Building Consultants says it supports the push toward mandatory registration – again not just for pre-purchase inspectors but all forms of building consultant.
Association executive committee member and managing director of Blue Chip Building Consultants Chris Short says costs for consumers associated with rectification and potentially legal action when things go wrong cannot be understated – especially as many had only recently undertaken the most significant investment of their lives. Along with termite damage, items missed by unqualified inspectors include cracks concealed by fresh coats of paint as well as issues relating to electrical wiring and leaking showers, Short said – areas which are able to be checked through electronic instruments but are not readily apparent from a purely visual perspective.
As well as hurting consumers, Short says unqualified operators undercut genuine consultants and inspectors who have a proper background in construction and take sufficient time to get the job done properly.
“There are plenty of people who hold themselves out to be capable of building inspectors but in reality, when you distill that down, there are a small number of people who are qualified,” Short said.
“For example, sometimes you will get a situation whereby a house is offered for sale and you will get two or three inspectors arriving at the same time for two or three potential purchasers. A typical inspection takes around one and a half to two hours to do thoroughly, but we see situations where these so called inspectors get through in twenty or thirty minutes. They just go in the front door, out the back door and collect the payment from the client on the way, who stands looking bewildered and really hasn’t got very good value for their money.”
“That is a problem for those of us in the profession who are genuine and who don’t just do it for pocket money.”
In terms of what should be required to obtain a licence, Short says inspectors should have a basic awareness of matters such as real-estate practice, property law and contract law as well as qualifications and several years’ worth of building sector experience. To protect members of the public, each inspector should be required to have minimum levels of assets and be accredited by a peer group such as a reputable industry association. Every five years or so, assessments performed by the person in question would be compared with those done by a peer on the same property.
Ryan, meanwhile, would like to see either a builder’s license or demonstrated experience in residential construction, with those unable to demonstrate this having the onus upon them to justify why they should be granted accreditation.
Opinion differs, however, as to whether licensing should take place on a state or national level. Whilst Ryan argues that standards being followed are national standards and therefore accreditation should be national, Short says the inspections are tagged onto the way in which the real-estate sector works in each state and that mandatory licensing should thus ideally be managed at state level.
As things stand, a lack of licensing requirements is allowing fly-by-night pre-purchase building inspectors to operate without restriction and undercut genuine professionals everywhere except for Queensland.
In order to best protect consumers and the legitimate part of the industry, however, it seems that these people should be stopped and that a regime of compulsory licensing is needed.