Four Approaches To Sharing Referrals

By Barry Stone
Saturday, January 28, 2006

Q: DEAR BARRY: As a real estate agent, I have had many discussions with fellow agents about how to recommend home inspectors to buyers. We want to give buyers good advice, but we also want to limit our liability. Here are the three schools of thought on home-inspector recommendations:

· Provide a list of available inspectors and advise buyers to research and choose the one they want.

· Recommend one inspector who regularly works for the real estate company, who belongs to a large network/franchise, and who indemnifies the real estate agent and company.

· Don't recommend anyone. Just tell buyers to investigate home inspectors on their own.

What do you advise? -- John

A: DEAR JOHN: If agent liability and client representation are primary considerations, there are problems with all three options. Fortunately, there is a fourth choice that better serves everyone.

The problem with option No. 1 is that a list of available inspectors will include the qualified, the unqualified and the mediocre. What if your buyers choose one of the less qualified inspectors? In that case, disclosure of property defects could be incomplete, damaging discoveries could occur after the sale, and you could be blamed for placing that name on the list.

The problem with the second option is that the inspector is being chosen for reasons other than actual competence at finding defects. Belonging to a network or franchise and purchasing insurance coverage for agents are not relevant measures of competence among home inspectors. Recommendations made on that basis could result in undisclosed defects being discovered after the sale, and that spells liability.

The problem with the third option, recommending no inspector and advising buyers to go shopping, is that most buyers have no idea how to choose a home inspector. If they pick someone who misses many defects, they could blame you for not providing direction based on your knowledge of and experience with local home inspectors.

There's another way to serve your clients, while minimizing your liability: Recommend the home inspector who you have come to recognize as significantly more thorough than the competition. If two or more inspectors meet this high standard, that's even better. Then you can provide a list of the best in the profession locally.

There's no way to fully protect yourself against liability problems. The best you can do is to minimize exposure. My fourth option is a practical way of achieving that end.

DEAR BARRY: The last time I ran my bathtub whirlpool, all sorts of disgusting particles were in the water. I'd like to use it once in a while, but after that filthy surprise, I'm afraid to turn it on. How can I clean the system? -- Michelle

DEAR MICHELLE: A simple and effective way to clean the plumbing in a bathtub whirlpool system is to fill the tub with hot water, add dishwasher detergent, and run the pump for about 30 minutes. Then run a rinse cycle with clear water. This should remove any residual impurities.

Whirlpool pipes often develop black "crud" because residual water in the lines stagnates. Periodic flushing is highly recommended.

Barry Stone is a professional home inspector. If you have questions or comments, contact him through his Web site,, or send mail to 1776 Jami Lee Ct., Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, Calif. 93401.

Distributed by Access Media Group

© 2006 The Washington Post Company