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Mass. board declines to rule whether quickie home inspections are legal

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Alex Steinberg of JBS Home Inspections enters information into a home inspection application on his phone during a house inspection in Newton. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Alex Steinberg of JBS Home Inspections enters information into a home inspection application on his phone during a house inspection in Newton. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Massachusetts regulators refused last week to clarify whether mini home inspections are permitted under state rules, despite pleas for guidance from inspectors.

Traditionally, home inspectors spend hours carefully checking key parts of a home — such as the foundation and electrical system — and providing written reports to prospective home buyers. But many buyers are waiving their right to a full inspection to win bidding wars in competitive real estate markets, like the one in Greater Boston.

Instead, some buyers are turning to inspectors who offer quickie inspections, called walk-and-talks or consultations, as detailed in a WBUR investigation last month. Those mini inspections are typically much shorter, include only a few areas of a home and do not come with a written report.

Some inspectors argue walk-and-talks could miss dangerous and expensive problems, leaving buyers with little to no recourse. They also contend these services do not comply with state regulations for home inspections, which require written reports. But some real estate agents and inspectors say consultations are better than nothing, when buyers opt out of traditional inspections.

The Board of Registration of Home Inspectors has so far declined to settle the debate.

At its latest meeting, the board's legal counsel urged board members not to issue a blanket policy on mini inspections and instead deal with any complaints on a case-by-case basis.

“If people have things that have come up, they’re welcome to file complaints and the board will review them through the normal course of the investigatory and adjudicatory process,” said Jenna Hentoff, legal counsel for the board.

“Things may or may not be in violation of the rules and regulations, but it can be very fact-dependent,” she added.

So far, however, the board has not received any consumer complaints about abbreviated inspections, according to board records obtained through public records requests.

One of the board members, inspector Liz Martin, complained the board's stance leaves inspectors in limbo, unsure whether walk-and-talks are allowed.

“It’s not that final, absolutely clear, unambiguous statement that home inspectors are looking for,” said Martin, who said she has personally performed some consultations. “I wish that, as a board, we could advise both our colleagues and consumers.”

The board did not open the discussion to public comments and declined an interview request.

"They want to wait for everything to come in and hit the fan, basically."

Lisa Alajajian Giroux

Lisa Alajajian Giroux, owner of HomeQuest Consultants in Milford, said she’s also disappointed that board members didn’t issue clearer guidance on the legality of walk-and-talks.

“They want to wait for everything to come in and hit the fan, basically,” she said. “I think they’re hoping this goes away somehow instead of getting involved in writing new policies.”

Alajajian Giroux, president-elect of the American Society of Home Inspectors, said she believes a frustrated buyer will eventually file a complaint or lawsuit in Massachusetts.

Over the last month or so, she said she’s met four buyers who had quickie inspections and later discovered problems at their new homes. One buyer, she said, found an undisclosed crawl space filled with water, mold, dead rats and their droppings but was too embarrassed to file a complaint.

"It was just the most disgusting crawl space I ever saw in my life," said Alajajian Giroux.

The issue has also come up in other states. Texas officials declared last month that walk-and-talks violate their state rules. By contrast, Ohio regulators released a policy in April spelling out that the service is legal as long as the inspector produces a written report and the buyer agrees in writing that areas of the home will be skipped.

Ohio regulators considered it “absolutely critical” to clarify that inspectors must still meet some minimum standards when they perform abbreviated inspections, said Anne Petit, superintendent of the Ohio Division of Real Estate and Professional Licensing, which oversees inspectors for the state.

“Our home inspector licensees are required to produce a written report, whether they call it a walk-and-talk, whether they call it limited services, whether they call it concierge — whatever creative name,” she said.

This segment aired on June 15, 2022.

Related:

Laura Kraegel Investigative Fellow
Laura Kraegel is the Roy W. Howard Investigative Fellow at WBUR.

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