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Unqualified and inexperienced inspectors conducting PrePurchase Timber Pest Inspections in NSW

The AEPMA National Director for NSW, Gary Stephenson, along with some other pest managers, representatives of the insurance industry and consumers are making submissions to the NSW Government to legislate regulation for the Pre-Purchase Timber Pest Inspection sector. 

A very brief overview of the issue follows.

Background:

At present in NSW we have an enormous pest and building inspection industry with effectively no underpinning legislation, no regulation, no enforcement of reasonable practice and no recourse when the inspections have been found to be at fault.

To make matters worse, currently anyone can carry out building inspections with no training or qualifications required.  Also, although a Timber Pest license (involving units 8 and 10 of Cert III of the National Competency Standards for Urban Pest Management) is required to carry out timber pest control (treatment programs), because no chemicals are involved, no pest control license is required to carry out timber pest inspections. Unsurprisingly, the number of seriously faulty inspections is growing alarmingly.

For some years now, and it appears with increasing prevalence, inexperienced, unqualified building inspectors have been and still are conducting Pre-Purchase Timber Pest Inspections in addition to or combined with, the Pre-Purchase Building Inspections on properties which will be changing ownership. The potential purchasers rely to a considerable extent, on favourable Pest & Building Inspections/reports. 

Our AEPMA head office receives regular calls from distraught and concerned consumers about these building inspectors and their reports. This is an emotive subject whenever raised at NSW AEPMA Council meetings, Pest Management Industry Training Advisory Group (PMITAG) meetings and industry roadshows and conferences. 

Many members who operate pest management businesses are being contacted by outraged clients and concerned consumers seeking guidance and advice after receiving a sub-standard report lacking necessary detail and often, missing crucial information regarding timber pests/ termites and which results in unexpected expenses for damage and repairs, timber replacement and treatments that is often in excess of $10,000 but can run into multiple tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars after purchasing a property that has been given a ‘clean bill of health’ by an unqualified inspector who really doesn’t know a termite from a cockroach.

Where some real estate agents fit into the equation

Clearly there is a serious potential conflict of interest situation when a building or timber pest inspection is carried out and paid for by a vendor, agent or other person connected to the property being sold. Undue influence can be applied or be seen to apply to the inspector and the legality of the inspection report may be misrepresented to other possible purchasers who are offered the report. 

There are countless instances of this, whereby, some estate agents undertake agreements with some inspectors to provide a specific number of multiple pre-purchase timber pest inspections (and building inspections sometimes) if the price is cheap enough, subsequent inspection reports reflect favourably on the property and the inspectors go ‘softly-softly’ on signs or evidence of timber pest activity or damage.     

Clearly, separate building and pest reports conducted by bona fide, experienced, qualified and licensed inspectors, free of vested interests, are required on buildings prior to purchase. Many members of AEPMA NSW and PMITAG vehemently feel that government or a government appointed regulator investigate inappropriate, unlicensed and unqualified inspectors undertaking pre-purchase timber pest inspections and the issuing of their reports to innocent potential property purchasers. 

Also, the Real Estate Institute needs to be informed of the situation, as some of their members appear to be putting pressure on inspectors not to find defects, ‘play down’ any  evidence of timber pest damage and/or activity, and basically ignore conditions conducive to timber pests and minimise any negative advice and recommendations for risk mitigation in order to secure a sale, when the aim of the inspection should be to find and highlight defects. 

To summarise

Essentially there are two situations that require legislated change, summarised as follows.

Unqualified and inexperienced inspectors conducting Pre-Purchase Timber Pest Inspections in NSW.
       Solution:  Anyone conducting Pre-Purchase Timber Pest Inspections in NSW must hold;
       NSW Pest Management Technician License
       NSW Timber Pest Management Technician License

The requirements to secure both the licenses above, mean that applicants must produce evidence of knowledge based academic achievement/certification, along with practical experience and skills gained in the field. This would greatly improve outcomes for all concerned parties, but in particular, property buyers who are adversely affected currently when making what is in most cases, the largest financial purchase of their lives.

       2. Requirements for Training of the Specialist Timber Pest Inspector 

In order to provide a Standard Prior to Purchase Timber Pest Inspection, the Inspector must be familiar with Timber Pests. To competently perform Inspections, appropriate experience in the management of Timber Pests is required. Management experience provides the Inspector with insight into the various patterns of Timber Pest infestation. This allows for the easier detection of secretive Timber Pests. The Inspector is knowledgeable in basic construction terms and methods and is able to identify basic building components. 

To achieve this level of competence the Inspector(s) must have achieved the timber pest management competency units 8 and 10 and general units 5, 6 and 18 of the Certificate III in Urban Pest Management. A Specialist Timber Pest Inspector will have not less than two years of termite management experience. 

The Australian Environmental Pest Managers Association has developed an Industry Code of Practice for Prior to Purchase Timber Pest Inspections which has been in circulation for several years and is freely available. It can be found here

The aim of this Code of Practice is primarily to benchmark a quality practice for a Prior to Purchase Timber Pest Inspection and Report. In supporting this aim, this Code of Practice seeks: 

To assist purchasers in selecting a specialist Inspector. Vendor provided reports do not comply with this Code of Practice. 

To inform potential property purchasers to allow them to make an informed decision regarding the  timber pest status of the property. 

To assist the purchaser by: 

  • providing industry practice and outcome requirements for a Prior to Purchase Timber Pest Inspection by a Specialist Timber Pest Inspector; 
  • providing risk assessments and relevant cost estimates; 
  • setting levels for the required training and experience for the specialist Inspector; 
  • setting a requirement for insurance cover; 
  • defining the tools required to adequately carry out a Prior to Purchase Timber Pest Inspection; 
  • providing information on other tools and Special Purpose Timber Pest Inspections available; and 
  • providing education to both the consumers and the providers of the specialist timber pest inspection service. 

To assist the Specialist Inspector by: 

a)  providing a clear set of guidelines; 

b)  harmonising expectations; and 

c)  setting a requirement for insurance cover. 

To assist the building inspector and other trades or professions involved in the transfer of property. 
Real Estate Agents coercing inspectors to produce favourable timber pest inspection reports either devoid of or minimising important details pertaining to the presence or not of timber pest activity and/or damage in order to secure a sale but with impunity and no accountability.

Solution:  A real estate agent that provides/supplies a prospective property purchaser with a pre-purchase timber pest inspection report must be held liable and accountable for the report if the report is found lacking or missing important information pertaining to the presence or not of timber pest activity and/or damage.  Liability to be shared equally with the inspector.  This should apply in both instances whether the inspection is commissioned by the estate agent, or by the vendor but in either case supplied and/or promoted by the agent.

This would greatly alleviate the conflict of interest that some estate agents are currently involved in.
It is well and truly time to instil some legitimacy into this necessary and specialist facet of the property service industry.

If you, as a concerned member (or one or more of your customers who have been affected) would like to make a submission for change, please direct your submission to:

John Tansey
Executive Director, Policy & Strategy 
Better Regulation Division 
NSW Government

c/- Pauline Lynn
Policy Manager | Building and Construction Policy
Better Regulation Division
Department of Customer Service
T (02) 8276 8654    
M 0436 941 097    E 

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