When a Performance Concern Becomes an Ethics Issue
By David Pace, Ethics Chair
Shortly after I became a CREIA member I attended a seminar given by Scott Clements, a past CREIA Chairman, where he discussed how to handle a call back. He indicated it was of prime importance to get back to the property right away and listen to the disgruntled client. This is priceless advice. This advice runs cross grain to my natural inclination. Following Scott’s advice and served me well over the years. It has kept me out of potentially difficult situations and kept me from making unwilling “contributions” to my lawyers “condo retirement fund”. Thank you Scott.
My natural inclination would be to deal with it on the phone and argue. After all I am “very busy” and the client is “obviously wrong”. My natural inclination is to think my inspection is flawless and my reports are never wrong. In my own mind, I am faster than a speeding rubber band, more powerful than a motorized skateboard and have been known to leap small retaining walls in a single bound. My natural inclination says, I do not need to hear their side of the story. My natural inclination says there are two sides to an issue, the right side and the wrong side. I’m on the right side, they are on the wrong side. My natural inclination is a good way to transform a “mole hill” into a “mountain”. The way of natural inclination is not the best way, or even a good way, to handle a concern expressed by a client. In fact it’s sure way to escalate a situation into a much bigger problem.
When an unhappy client calls your office it is generally a “performance” concern. The client feels there was something you missed, some problem has come to light in the property or something was inaccurate in the report. These are called performance issues. Members of CREIA conduct inspections in accordance with the CREIA Standards of Practice. The CREIA Standards of Practice have been recognized throughout the state and are frequently used as a referencing standard by the real estate and legal community. However, while CREIA has set these standards, CREIA is unable to monitor Standards of Practice performance by individual inspectors because they usually involve findings of fact, outside expert opinions, and possible legal proceedings. When a public member calls the CREIA office expressing a concern that their inspector missed something or a problem has been discovered in the property, CREIA encourages them to contact the inspector and work it out with the inspector. On the CREIA website there are recommendations for those who have a performance concerns.
Those recommendations to the client are in part:
Look carefully at the services you contracted for with your inspector and then discuss your issues with the inspector.
If you have found items in your written inspection report that you fail to understand, call the inspector and ask them to thoroughly explain the condition(s) in question.
If you fail to find defects listed in your report that your inspector verbally noted to you during the inspection process, call the inspector and ask why they were left out.
If you get a conflicting opinion from one of the agents involved in the transaction, call the inspector and ask them for the basis for their opinion.
If you get a conflicting opinion from a contractor retained to perform corrective work on a defective system or component noted in the inspector's report, call the inspector and ask for further explanation; suggest the inspector speak to the contractor.
If you feel the inspector performed less than a thorough inspection, call the inspector and share your feelings. If the inspector fails to satisfy your feelings, offer to return the inspector's written report, sign a legal waiver of action, and ask for your money back.
Most clients understand that CREIA cannot monitor a performance issue and it must be handled between the client and the inspector. That is why it is critical for the inspector to meet, as soon as possible, with the client to discuss the clients concerns. Meeting with the client will help to calm the client’s anxiety. I would suggest you keep several thoughts and actions in mind during your meeting.
Don’t allow your natural inclinations to take over. We tend to become defensive when a problem arises. Be calm. Control your temper and emotions. Be at your best. You have spent years developing an image. Don’t let a hostile meeting destroy years of work building your image.
Listen to the client. Look at the situation from their perspective. Resist the urge to argue. After carefully listening to the clients, calmly explain your perspective. Try to build bridges and eliminate barriers. Look for areas in which you have agreement.
Consider the clients concerns. Make every attempt to resolve the situation.
On occasion CREIA receives a call from the client of an inspector who indicates the inspector was rude or threatening. It is at that point a performance complaint becomes an ethics issue. The CREIA Code of Ethics states that an inspector “shall avoid activities that harm the public, discredit themselves, or reduce public confidence in the profession.’ It goes on to say inspectors “will maintain professional relationships with clients, colleagues and others associated with the inspection…” Finally the Code of Ethics requires inspectors to “respond professionally to client or CREIA concerns and complaints about an inspection.”
CREIA does not investigate performance complaints. However, CREIA does investigate complaints against members who do not maintain a professional relationship with their clients and do not respond professionally to their clients when they express concerns about the inspection or inspector. Does that mean you always give in to the client and write a check? Not at all. What it does mean is you maintain a professional relationship with the client. You are a professional, be professional. You have spent your inspection career creating an image or brand for your company. Don’t allow a call back to ruin your image by acting like a jerk.
I check my natural inclinations at the door. It’s not easy. But it’s how a professional responds to a uncomfortable situation.
About the author:
David Pace is a member of the Golden Gate chapter and has preformed over 7,000 paid inspections since becoming an inspector in 1993. Dave is a past chapter president and vice-president of the Golden Gate Chapter. He is currently a State Director and Chairman of the Ethics Committee.