This week’s question comes from a thousand other home inspectors, including just about everyone in my company. What happens when we get a request to inspect a house a second time? The most common scenario that triggers this situation is when someone from my company inspects a home, the deal falls apart, then we get a call from someone else to inspect the home again.
This is a tough question to answer because it raises some ethical questions. Because we now have intimate knowledge about the home, do we have an obligation to report that information to the new client? Would disclosing information from a previous inspection violate our code of ethics? Is it right for us to tell the client that we had previously inspected the home? Are we obligated to tell our client that we had inspected the home previously? These are all great topics for discussion amongst home inspectors, and I don’t think the answers are black and white. I’d like to share my thoughts on these questions, however.
Code of Ethics
Home should abide by a Code of Ethics. The two big national organizations for home inspectors, the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) and the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) each have their own standards of practice, and as far as I’m concerned, they’re both pretty similar. One of the important parts of inspection disclosure covered by both organizations is about who we can share our findings with. Here’s what ASHI says:
Inspectors shall not disclose inspection results or client information without client approval.
The one exception to this relates to immediate safety hazards. The ASHI Code of Ethics also says the following:
Inspectors, at their discretion, may disclose observed immediate safety hazards to occupants exposed to such hazards, when feasible.
And here’s what InterNACHI says:
The InterNACHI® member shall not release any information about the inspection or the client to a third party unless doing so is necessary to protect the safety of others, to comply with a law or statute, or both of the following conditions are met:
a. the client has been made explicitly aware of what information will be released, to whom, and for what purpose, and;
b. the client has provided explicit, prior written consent for the release of their information.
In other words, we can’t share any information about our home inspections without our client’s permission. This explains why we home inspectors are diligent about asking our clients if they would like their agent to receive a copy of the inspection report. It’s all extremely confidential information.
There are no obligations
Neither of these codes of ethics tell home inspectors that they must disclose to a client that an inspection was ever previously done on a property. Nevertheless, I think that any client would appreciate knowing this information, so this is something we typically share with my client when performing an inspection on a house for the second time. We tell our client that our company has already inspected the home, and that’s pretty much where we leave it. The one thing we can’t do is share our previous inspection results.
We do, however, always make a point of reading any previous inspection reports that our company has done at a property. When it comes to finding potential defects at a home, we’ll take any advantage we can get. I feel the same way for home buyers as well. If I were buying a home and all things were equal, I’d prefer to hire the inspector who had already been there once.
When inspecting a house for the second time, we inspect the house just as thoroughly as we did the first time. We do not offer a discount because it’s no less work to inspect a house the second time. We’re still responsible to report on the condition of the house at the time of our inspection. We can’t simply copy and paste our old report. Conditions change, sellers fix stuff, occupants break stuff… you get my drift.
What if the new buyer wants a copy of the old report?
Many times, the new buyers will ask us for a copy of our previous inspection report. Many times, they’ll ask to purchase a copy of our report for the old buyers. In no case will we ever sell a previous report to someone else. I don’t like the way it looks, and I don’t like the way it feels. If someone is going to get paid for the report, it should be the old buyers. Not us.
In those cases, we reach out to the old buyer to tell them the new buyer would like to have a copy of our report. In some cases, the new buyer would like to purchase their old report. If the old buyer is agreeable, we put the new buyer in contact with the old buyer, and we leave it up to them to sort out the details.
What about a walk-through for the new buyers with the old report?
Maybe once a year, a new buyer will get their hands on a copy of an old report, and they’ll want to hire us to go through the house with them. I cringe at this because I think it’s a bad place to penny-pinch. The buyers might save a little bit of money, but we’re not actually inspecting the house a second time, and the report was written for someone else.
If someone really wants this, we’ll do it, and we treat it like a Walk-through consultation. We spend more time at the house and charge accordingly, and it’s better than not having an inspection at all, but it’s not the full home inspection experience. It’s more like buying used mobile phone where you don’t have the option of doing a factory reset.