Home exam bill on tap

Effort to license home inspectors set for Md. Senate panel

House passed it, 133-3

Legislation also gives consumers avenue of complaint

March 25, 2001|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN REAL ESTATE EDITOR

With its two Maryland House sponsors riding a wave of optimism, a bill that would license home inspectors and provide consumers an avenue for complaints is scheduled to be heard Wednesday before the Senate Finance Committee in Annapolis.

House Bill 379, approved 133-3 by that body, is to be presented by co-sponsors Del. Brian Moe, a Democrat who represents parts of Prince George's and Montgomery counties, and Del. Dan Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat.

For the last four years, Morhaim has tried to push through the General Assembly legislation that would protect consumers from unscrupulous home inspectors. Until this year, each effort had gone down to defeat.

But this year, with no opposition from the home inspection industry or from the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, the outlook for passage seems promising.

"I've talked with some of the senators on the Finance Committee, and they seem pretty optimistic," said Morhaim, who added that the bill will be "one of the most pro-consumer pieces of legislation to come out of the legislature this year."

An aide to Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell - the Baltimore County Democrat who is chairman of the Finance Committee - said the senator would be reserving comment until the hearing. But if the legislation passes the Senate and is signed into law by the governor, it would take effect Oct. 1.

"I haven't had anybody come back and say, `Hey we're not voting for this. We don't like it,'" Moe said. "I think it makes sense. I think it is easy enough to prove that it is a sensible move just from the consumer aspect to put something in place. Even the industry wants to be regulated."

The bill revamps the state board that governs real estate appraisers in the licensing department. It would add four members from the home-inspection industry as well as two additional consumer members to create the State Commission of Real Estate Appraisers and Home Inspectors.

And for the first time in Maryland history, it would put to an end the practice of allowing anyone to act as a home inspector, regardless of qualifications.

"Realistically, if you and I want to be a home inspector, you go out and hang a shingle on your house and say, `I'm a home inspector,'" said Moe, who serves on the House Economic Matters Committee and, according to Morhaim, was responsible for getting the legislation through the committee.

Consumers typically use an inspector when purchasing a home. Many real estate contracts require the use of a home inspector and make the sale contingent upon an inspection that satisfies both buyer and seller. Under current law, the only thing a home inspector is required to do is give each customer a disclosure that details the value and limitations of a home inspection.

"We were the only player in the whole real estate process that wasn't licensed. It didn't make sense," said Volney Ford, past president of the Home Inspectors of Maryland Inc., which worked with Moe and Morhaim to craft the bill.

"Ultimately, why we want licensing is to improve the profession, set standards and to ensure that people entering the profession are competent."

Stephen Showalter, president of Building Specs Inc. in Annapolis and past president of the National Association of Home Inspectors, said after years of fighting bills that the industry thought were too burdensome, the time had come for "some sort of regulation in the state."

"I think the way the bill is written is very fair," Showalter said. "It is not punitive. It is not restrictive of new business. In the past there had been some very restrictive bills that basically put people out of business, or not allowed home inspectors to get into the business. I think this [bill] is very fair."

Said Ford: "It's a bill that has been shaped, worked on and refined for five years. No reason why it shouldn't pass."

The legislation, which was modeled after a North Carolina law, will grandfather in existing home inspectors - by July 1, 2002 - who are members either of the American Society of Home Inspectors or the National Association of Home Inspectors or who have conducted at least 100 fee-paid home inspections.

It will then require those wanting to enter the business to:

Complete at least 48 hours of a nationally or commission-approved off-site training course.

Have a high school diploma or equivalent.

Carry general liability insurance of $50,000.

Submit a completed commission application form.

Pay a $50 application fee.

The license will cost $400 and will be valid for two years. The state estimates there are 450 home inspectors working in Maryland.

It also sets up a hearing board, so a complaint can be filed if a consumer accuses a home inspector of professional misconduct. It also allows the board to create competency-based criteria as well as continuing education requirements.

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