As I am always trying to expand my mental database of home inspection knowledge (which is a good thing), I belong to a few different forums where home inspectors gather to discuss issues and share ideas (which is something that I highly recommend to all inspectors). Recently, an inspector with about 10 years’ experience posted a rant about being approached by a real estate agent asking for a kick-back of inspection fees in exchange for referrals. There was near uniform condemnation of this practice on the forum (which was quite heartening to see), and near uniform commiseration with his situation by inspectors that had been placed in the same predicament (which was quite disheartening to see). The inspector was distressed by the fact that the agent would even think of asking him to engage in such immoral behavior. This thread got me thinking of my experiences in the industry, and the lessons that I have learned in the process.
Kickbacks to real estate agents are illegal in most states with licensing laws, including my home state of Louisiana. Unfortunately, as in every industry (including home inspections, as is often demonstrated in some of the threads on these forums), there exist individuals with ‘questionable’ ethics. This will never change; there will always be people whose ‘moral score’ will be found at the wrong end of the spectrum. Your overriding goal is to try to surround yourself with friends and associates whose values most closely align with yours. In the inspection business, this doesn’t always happen, as we sometimes end up transacting with individuals with whom would not normally associate. In these situations, it is typically best to minimize contact with the questionable individuals while adhering to the law and your standards. The people that matter (the others involved in the transaction that do not share that individual’s outlook) will take notice, and the agent with the morality deficit will likely make a mental note that you are not their type of inspector. Slowly but surely, the questionable agents will realize the type of character that you possess and will gravitate back to inspectors that share their outlook on morality.
The fact that this happened to him demonstrates that these types of inspectors exist in his market (which is of no surprise at all). And while it can be argued that the existence of morally-compromised inspectors gives us all a bad name, I prefer to look at it from a different point of view, one that can help to provide some clarity on the subject. There will always be people of questionable morals; this fact is indisputable. The best that we can hope for (and work toward) is that the unscrupulous agents will find their corresponding home inspectors, and they will rarely enter our sphere of influence.
It is certainly debatable whether it is a good use of your time to try to report this type of agent behavior, whether to their broker or their licensing board, bearing in mind that licensing states may have ethical codes that require us to do just that. I would recommend clearly stating your position to the offending agent, affirming that you consider such activity to be an illegal conflict of interest and have no desire to conduct business with someone who would stoop to such activities, and pursuing the issue further only when necessary. Your main goal is to grow your business, not to be the real estate police. Focus on your main objective, veering away from this policy only when your sense of integrity mandates further action on your part.
Always strive to uphold your morals, doing what is good and right instead of what is good right now. Surround yourself with others that share your values, no matter how hard of a task that may appear. And remember the wise words of George Washington: “It is better to be alone than in bad company.”
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