He’s licensed to inspect
Home buyers can now expect to ask for a license when it comes to home
BY KEN SCHACHTER
SPECIAL TO NEWSDAY
January 27, 2006
Paul Gressin recalls the lawless, rough-and-tumble days of New York state
"You could put a screwdriver in your back pocket and a flashlight in your
front pocket, and you could say you were a home inspector," said the owner
of Woodmere-based Professional Building Inspectors. "It was the wild, wild
In those days, said Cathleen Quinn Nolan, an attorney whose firm counsels
the Long Island Board of Realtors and Multiple Listing Service,
qualifications were incidental. "You hung out a shingle. You could be a home
inspector and a therapist to boot," she said.
All that changed on Dec. 31, when New York fell in line with the majority of
states and began licensing home inspectors.
The Home Inspection Professional Licensing Act, signed by Gov. George Pataki
in August 2004, imposes standards on inspectors of residential buildings
with one to four units, except for new construction. The law does not
mention buildings with more than four units. Exempt from the law are
architects, engineers and code enforcement officers who already fall under
separate state or local regulations.
Gressin, a 36-year home inspection veteran and Pataki's appointee to the New
York State Association of Home Inspectors, which monitors the new law, said
the legislation offers new protections for home buyers.
Working out the bugs
In the past, an ill-trained home inspector might say he or she saw no
evidence of termites after a cursory inspection, Gressin said. Under the new
law, however, insect and radon issues are reserved for specialists, and home
inspectors are barred from including them in their reports.
Nolan, a partner at Melville-based Goldson Nolan Connolly PC and a former
real estate broker, said the new law will provide the most benefit to home
buyers of moderate means.
"Very wealthy people always get what they need," she said. But even people
of modest means will spend almost half a million dollars on a starter home
today, Nolan said, so "you want to know that somebody is licensed."
In New York State, real estate agents often quarterback transactions and in
the past, some have charged home inspectors to be included on preferred
lists or steered buyers toward a particular inspector.
Funneling buyers to a home inspector who is unlikely to raise significant
issues could be good for the real estate agent who captures a share of the
deal but financially painful for a buyer who discovers problems after the
sale. The new law requires agents to provide multiple referrals.
The new law, however, seeks to address conflicts of interest that sometimes
suffuse home sales. The law bars home inspectors from paying kickbacks or
referral fees to sellers or the real estate agent of either the seller or
buyer. Violators can have their license suspended or revoked and face civil
fines of up to $1,000 per violation.
Under the law, real estate agents who refer a home inspector also are
responsible for verifying that they are licensed.
Options for licensing
Home inspectors can earn a license by: taking a course of at least 140
hours, including 40 hours of supervised inspections in the field and passing
a qualifying exam; providing proof that they have performed at least 100
inspections in the two years prior to Dec. 31 and have passed an exam, or
providing proof that they have conducted at least 250 home inspections
within three years before Dec. 31. Initial license application fees are
$250, and renewals are $100.
Richard Feinsilver, a real estate attorney with offices in Nassau, Suffolk
and Queens counties, said the new law is likely to "knock out a lot of the
fly-by-night" home inspectors but he doesn't expect an increase in the cost
of a typical inspection.
"There are enough reputable companies that the market will set its own
rates," said Feinsilver, who put the typical range at $350-$500.
Richard Koller, chief operations officer of Rockville Centre-based Tauscher
Cronacher, a professional engineering firm that does home inspections, said
the rule of thumb in setting the price of home inspections is one-tenth of 1
percent of the sale price, adjusting for square footage, outside structures,
the number of stories and whether water tests are required.
Based on that formula, an inspection on a $500,000 home would cost $500.
Bob Herrick, a builder and broker and owner of Century 21 Herrick Real
Estate in Bay Shore, said home inspections really have come into vogue in
the past eight years or so.
"Prior to that, you brought your Uncle Charlie along to kick the wall," he
Herrick said he hopes the law will weed bunglers out of the field.
"I'm sure there are a few people out there who shouldn't be doing what
they're doing," he said. "Some of the companies give estimates. If a roof's
$4,000, they say it's going to be $10,000 to $12,000 to repair. That's
Koller said the law sprang in part from recognition of the vulnerability of
home buyers. "The buyer was on their own," he said. "The buyer wasn't
represented by anyone but the home inspector and their attorney."
Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.