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Builders: enforce certification

In July 2001, a law was enacted that required home inspectors to be licensed in order to work in the state. To inspect existing homes, applicants are required to complete 60 classroom hours at an accredited school, pass the home inspector national exam, pass the code of ethics and standards practice test, attain E and O insurance and liability as well as pay a filing fee.

However, applicants wanting to inspect new homes are required to have a builder’s license and be code-certified in one of 20 available areas such as plumbing inspector, fire safety plan examiner or residential electrical, in addition to the aforementioned requirements.

The thinking behind the extra requirements was that those inspecting new homes needed a broader base of skills to understand and identify the nuances of newly-built residences. Not surprisingly, homebuilders led the effort to get the extra new-home requirements in place — they wanted qualified inspectors checking their work.

Those attaining the certification are assigned the designation “NH” after their license number, signifying to all — builders, Realtors, homebuyers, etc. — that they have met the law’s requirements.

Now six years later, homebuilders and others are crying “foul.” They feel the new-home certification requirement is not being enforced, and the Home Builders Association of Mississippi (HBAM) is letting its members know about the issue.

Where’s the certificate?

The state statute concerning new-home inspectors reads, in part, “After October 1, 2001, no person licensed under this act shall offer to perform or perform services on new construction for a fee without having first obtained a residential home builder’s license from the Mississippi Board of Contractors and certification by the Southern Building Code Congress or any other national professional code organization.”

There are teeth in the law, too. Fines run from $1,000 to $5,000 for each infraction.

Yet, home inspectors holding the new-home certification are a distinct minority. According to numbers from the Mississippi Association of Home Inspectors (MAHI), only 24.5% of the 208 licensed inspectors in the state hold the certification, and more than 40% of those holding new-home certification were grandfathered in. Moreover, the number of new-home certified inspectors is currently dropping. Since January 2006, only 6% of applicants (five out of 84) have chosen to get their new-home certification.

Six years after licensure, there are only 51 new-home inspectors statewide. That is roughly one new-home certified home inspector per county. Major markets such as Meridian, Greenville, Columbus and Starkville do not have a single new-home certified inspector who lists those communities as their place of residence. There are twice as many new-home certified inspectors in Tennessee (all in the greater Memphis area) than there are in Jackson.

Gary Smith says, facetiously, “This tells me that there has not been a new home built in, say, Meridian, in the last six years.”

‘It’s the law’

Smith is a Brandon-based new-home certified inspector and vice president of MAHI. He is a staunch advocate of enforcement of the new-home certification law.

“Recently, it has come to (MAHI’s) attention that several home inspectors are operating in violation to state licensure laws, and we would love to get the word out to Mississippians,” Smith says.

Bob McKay, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Jackson (HBAJ), says, “It’s amazing to me. I don’t understand why it is not being enforced. For the life of me, I don’t know why.”

“It’s the law,” HBAM CEO Marty Milstead says succinctly. “If they’re inspecting new homes, they ought to know what they’re doing.”

The HBAM, HBAJ and MAHI have joined forces in an attempt to inform homebuilders of the issue. Milstead confirms that the HBAM is running a MAHI announcement statewide that explains the basics of the issue, where to find information on what it entails to get new-home certification, a link to a list of all home inspectors and where to go to report a past or present alleged violation. The HBAJ has sent an e-mail blast of the same announcement to its roughly 1,300 members, and plans to publish it in HBAJ’s publication Metro Builder, according to Smith.

Smith’s position is that if the law is going to be ignored, a change is in order. He advocates either requiring all inspectors to carry new-home certification, thus doing away with the confusion, or get rid of the certification requirement all together. Smith leans toward the former option.

Not surprisingly, Milstead does not want to see the new-home certification killed. Instead, he says the law is there, it is a good one, and it simply needs to be enforced.

“I don’t see the problem,” he says. “If you don’t have the certification, you can’t inspect new homes.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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