Home inspectors in Ontario are sounding the alarm.
Some say that in today’s hot real estate market, more and more buyers are being pressured to make offers on homes without full home inspections.
“It’s like playing Russian Roulette with your finances and your home’s finances and your family’s finances,” said Len Inkster, the executive secretary of the Ontario Association of Certified Home Inspectors, one of a number of groups representing workers in the field.
He said that based on conversations he’s having with inspectors throughout the province, he believes that less than 25 per cent of all home sales are being inspected.
“It’s so out of control,” said Bob Price, a home inspector for Windsor, with 15 years in the industry.
“Home buyers, I think, that they now realize they’re making the biggest purchase of their lives, but they have no protection.”
He explained that in today’s “frenzied market,” buyers have a better chance of getting a house without any conditions, including getting an inspection, adding that the pressure of the market and the rush to make a purchase are forcing people to make poor decisions.
Inspectors warning against limited-scope inspections
Matt Awram, owner of Third Eye Home Inspections in Amherstburg, worries that people are being misinformed.
“They’re being told that they can’t have a home inspection, or they’re not going to get the house, but that’s just not the case,” he said.
He frequently gets calls from recent home buyers, he explained, requesting an inspection after a sale has gone through because they weren’t able to get one beforehand, sometimes leading to “horror stories.”
He explained that while pre-purchase inspections (after an offer has been accepted) are rare now, pre-offer and pre-listing inspections continue to take place, but he stresses that buyers should make sure they’re getting full inspections, instead of what are called “limited-scope inspections.” These inspections only focus on certain areas of a home rather than doing a complete inspection.
Some, like Awram and Price, won’t do limited-scope inspections. Inkster says they’re growing in popularity in some parts of Ontario, especially in Windsor-Essex and Chatham-Kent, adding that he’s also seen them popping up in Peterborough and Kingston.
“Hate them,” Inkster said, stressing that his association is firmly against them.
“The problem with the limited-scope inspections, if you do it for a buyer, it’s not extensive enough to give the buyer the right information on the condition of the property to let them understand what sort of maintenance costs they might be letting themselves in for.”
Inkster says they’re frequently used as a marketing tactic by realtors representing sellers, during the pre-listing phase. He said it might encourage buyers to not get their own inspections.
Time limits for inspections
Damon Winney, the president of the Windsor-Essex County Association of Realtors, says buyers should always aim to get a full home inspection whenever possible.
However, given that homes are selling quite quickly, “you may be under a time crunch,” he explained.
“I think it’s dangerous to limit the scope of an inspection. It should be as much as you can do within the property itself,” but adds that in cases where time doesn’t allow for a full inspection, he says “a limited scope is better than nothing.”
Sellers also dictate whether or not a home inspection can even happen, Winney explained.
“Some sellers may say, ‘No, we’re not going to allow a home inspection,’ which may raise a question mark on the property. Number two, is we may only have a limited time frame that we’re able to conduct the inspection with the inspector with us.”
Price explained that often, he’ll get told he only has a 30-minute window to do a full inspection, even though a full inspection takes an hour and 20 minutes to do. In those cases, he turns around and walks out because he can’t do his job in that amount of time.
“It’s nothing that we’ve ever seen in the past,” he said.
“In this current situation, Ontario buyers are in trouble.”
Winney said buyers paired with a strong realtor can sometimes try to negotiate more time for full inspections.
But Inkster blames realtors for creating the time crunch in the first place.
He says the current market is being driven by “auction fever” with buyers and sellers making decisions born out of panic.
“There’s a whole series of things going on and it’s being driven by stupidity and greed, in my opinion,” Inkster said.
“Every single professional dealing in real estate has got something to answer for there. But above that, the government is just — and it doesn’t matter which colour you vote for — they’re all the same. Nobody seems to want to do anything except make a profit.”
Fighting for regulation of the industry
Awram, Price and Inkster are all pushing for regulation of the inspection industry.
Lack of regulation has been an issue for years, Inkster said, only made worse by the market. He said his association has been pushing for legislation for nearly nine years.
“It will actually allow us to weed out the bad inspectors. It will stop people who are not qualified and therefore not licensed from doing inspections at all,” Inkster said.
The Ministry of Government and Consumer Services says the Home Inspection Act is not yet in force.
In a statement to CBC, a spokesperson said, “The ministry is continuing to review this file to determine the best approach to protecting the interests of home buyers and sellers in an appropriate and effective way.”
‘Industry is bleeding’
In the meantime, Inkster says the industry is on a steep decline, with many inspectors leaving the industry altogether.
He said they’ve lost around 65 per cent of professional inspectors in Ontario since 2019. He worries that if things carry on this way, in another 18 months, there won’t be any home inspectors in Canada.
“This industry is bleeding,” Inkster said.
Price says his business is way down. He used to do 750 inspections a year, but that he’s now down to about 150.
“It’s a catastrophic hit, there’s no doubt,” Price said.
He’s frustrated that nobody is stepping up to the plate to fix the situation to ensure consumers are being protected.
“I’ve never seen anything fail as much as the home inspection industry,” Price said.