There are a number of elements most professions have in common that define the profession and how practitioners perform within the marketplace. The home inspection profession is no different, and it can be useful to periodically reflect on the parameters of our profession and consider the impact and value we add to society.
First, there is a body of knowledge that establishes the parameters of the profession. This body of knowledge is not static, but is ever expanding, fueled by the dynamic interaction of professional home inspectors with each other, with consumers, with government entities that may establish regulations, and innovation in the marketplace. Over the past couple of years ASHI's Standards Committee has worked tirelessly in developing revisions to our Standard of Practice (SoP) that reflect the changes in the profession since the last revision in 2006. Bruce Barker and the Standards Committee are to be commended for their efforts that easily total into thousands of hours of hard work.
In this column I want to concentrate on a part of our SoP that was not revised: the Code of Ethics (CoE).
Just as our SoP establishes a baseline for the practice of home inspection, our CoE establishes a similar baseline regarding professional integrity for home inspectors. There are two types of codes generally used in defining ethics for professionals: descriptive codes and prescriptive codes.
A descriptive code is typically going to describe broad outcomes and does not address specific activities but rather establishes goals for ethical behavior within the profession. However these broad directives don't always provide the definition and guidance needed by practitioners in the field. They leave room for interpretation and introduce shades of gray often leaving practitioners to make value judgments in regard to specific circumstances.
On the other end of the spectrum are the prescriptive codes which provide specific instruction on acceptable and unacceptable activities within the profession. If you look at ASHI's CoE you will find that we have a hybrid code. There are descriptive statements providing broad objectives followed by a list of prescriptive elements to define specific activities that are not allowed.
For example, consider the following paragraph from ASHI's CoE:
1) Inspectors shall avoid conflicts or activities that compromise or appear to compromise professional independence, objectivity or inspection integrity.
This statement is open to any number of interpretations on specific circumstance that might arise in the field. Fortunately we also have included prescriptive elements to make these judgments in the field a little easier. Under paragraph one, you will find subparagraphs A thru F, which are more specific. For Example:
B) Inspectors shall not inspect properties under contingent arrangements whereby any compensation or future referrals are dependent on reported findings or on the sale of a property.
By combining both descriptive and prescriptive elements in the CoE, we have developed a code that has served us well over the years, providing ASHI with the guidance needed to make ethical decisions over the years.
Sometimes, however, a specific circumstance may arise that members may question in regard to the CoE. To assist members in this regard, ASHI has a standing Ethics Committee ready to answer ethics related questions. The Ethics committee accepts Requests for Interpretation (RFI) from members. Once the question is evaluated the interpretation of the committee is provided to the requestor and also published in the member section of the website. If you have a question about a particular circumstance, you should first go the ASHI website and review past RFIs. You may find that your question has already been asked and answered.
Our Code of Ethics is a critical component of our profession and through it we establish a bond with our clients, creating public confidence in ASHI and the home inspection profession. I encourage all of you to review this important document and renew your commitment to our profession.