Last Update: 4/17/18
For many home buyers in South Florida, finding that right house or condo to buy is an exciting moment. Some houses sound great on paper or look fabulous on online, but when you do a walk-through with your real estate agent, the place just isn’t right. You keep looking until you find the property that you want to buy.
Most Buyers know the feeling — you go see a property, and it just feels right. Most if not all of your wish list is met. You’re ready to make an offer (of course, even if you are buying the home “As-Is”, the Contract will be subject to a home inspector conducting a thorough review of the property – read below).
However, as a smart purchaser you know that residential real estate can have all sorts of problems, especially here in South Florida. Unless you are knowledgeable about things like plumbing, foundations, electricity, and more, it’s best to get help from a professional home inspector before you close the deal.
Real Estate Agents and Home Inspectors
Home inspectors are not a trade that most people use very often, and many home buyers will not know a home inspection service first-hand to call. Unfortunately, many Florida buyers rely on their real estate agent, who is quick to recommend a home inspector to the buyer. The real estate agent may even offer a few names for the buyer to choose from for the home inspection.
When this happens, it is my suggestion for you to be very careful!!
It’s very tempting for a real estate agent to offer the name of a home inspector who will work with that real estate agent to help get the sale nailed down. The inspector and the agent may be friends; they may be worse — partners in crime where the inspector gets a benefit from the agent for each “friendly inspection.”
Real estate agents profit from commissions on the sale of property. It’s in their best interests to get that property bought and sold. Home inspectors profit from inspections; the more they do, the more profit they make.
Florida home buyers shouldn’t be surprised to think that there may be real estate agents and home inspectors that find working together benefits both of them. Buyers need to realize that a home inspector referral from a real estate agent may be suspect and not in the buyer’s best interest. This is especially true if the real estate agent is working under a “transaction broker” arrangement which limits their responsibility to the buyer.
Long after the “friendly home inspection,” that naive home buyer may discover big problems with the purchased property: things like mold hidden behind walls or under flooring; the use of Chinese Drywall in the home; termites; failure to meet code requirements; and other expensive problems.
When the best interests of one party clash with the best interests of another, that’s a conflict of interests. In some of these situations, the buyer who has been harmed by a flawed or phony home inspection may have a real estate fraud lawsuit against the real estate agent, the seller and maybe the home inspector, too.
What Should Home Inspectors in Florida Do for Buyers?
Home inspectors should provide the prospective home buyer with an accurate assessment of the conditions and quality of the home or condo they are thinking about buying. Inspectors should provide a written report that explains what they reviewed during their inspection of the property and details their findings and opinions on the home or condo.
Inspections should be thorough. Inspections that are done right are not cheap, but they are very important for a home buyer to have.
Are All Florida Home Inspectors The Same?
In Florida, new licensing laws were passed a few years ago (in 2011) that expanded the ability of individuals to get licensed by the State of Florida as a home inspector. If an applicant can pass the test, then they can become a Florida home inspector. From the NSHI site:
Florida Home Inspector Licensing Program
Florida grandfathering provisions for home inspector licensing ended on March 1, 2011. Home inspectors who currently want to be licensed for Florida must obtain a home inspection license from the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation. (FL BBPR)
Florida Statutes Chapter 468, Part XV requires:
(1) 120 hours of approved course instruction that includes 20 hours of hands-on training
(2) Pass the National Home Inspector Examination (NHIE) sponsored by the Examination Board of Professional Home Inspectors
(3) $300,000 commerical general liability insurance.
To apply for a Florida home inspection license, the applicant must have a high school diploma or its equivalent, complete an electronic fingerprint background check, be of good moral character, and include a $330 license fee.
There are no experience requirements to apply for a Florida home inspection license and the license must be renewed every two years.
To separate the more experienced and knowledgeable home inspectors from the basic Florida inspector, there are additional qualifications that a home buyer can seek out in their inspector. Things like making sure the person is a paying member of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), for example.
Home inspectors with over 250 inspections can be designed as “certified home inspectors” by ASHI. If the home buyer has specific concerns about conditions, then he or she can look into hiring an inspector with specific expertise in that area, e.g., an inspector with a Mold Services license.
Additionally, home buyers should confirm that their home inspector has current malpractice (“E&O”) coverage, in case he makes an error or omission during the inspection of the buyer’s property. The prudent home buyer will also make sure that the inspector carries coverage to cover any personal injuries he may sustain during the inspection. (Also, look at the Contract with the home inspector to see if they limit their liability.)
What Should a Florida Home Buyer Do if Harmed by a Faulty Home Inspection?
If you have purchased residential real estate here in Florida and find that the inspection of the home did not reveal defects in the property, then you may have a claim against the inspector as well as the seller and perhaps the real estate agent (and his or her real estate broker) for damages. Each circumstance is unique, and needs to be analyzed and assessed by an experienced Florida real estate lawyer.
Unfortunately, many Florida home buyers have been hurt by Florida home inspectors (especially since 2011 when the licensing law changed) and Florida real estate attorneys have many war stories about bad inspections and the damages that have resulted from them.
A good piece of advice when you and your family are purchasing or selling your family home in one of the biggest transactions of your life is to talk with a Florida real estate lawyer. Getting someone to review all of the paperwork isn’t as costly as most of us think it is. And, it’s always a lot cheaper than paying to fix a problem after a closing occurs. Most real estate lawyers, like Larry Tolchinsky, offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person, whichever you prefer) to answer your questions.
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