Frequently I am emailed about one Home Inspector or another who has potentially misleading or deceptive advertising on their WEB site or other media. Many times I also run into potentially deceptive advertising on a Home Inspector’s WEB site. However this weekend was one I was made aware of that literally sent me off like a rocket in anger! Read on for more on this problem and what you can do to help protect yourself.
[tab: The problem]
The problem of deceptive advertising is nothing new. The unfortunate thing about this practice though is how the advertiser plays to the consumers to get them to buy their product or service, and how they craftily word their advertisements to deceive the consumers. In this post I will deal with only one egregious example but to prevent legal problems I will have to mask who this example is about. A very unfortunate thing today is that when someone tries to help others they open themselves up to trouble and lawsuits whether the attacks are frivolous and unmerited. Anyone can sue anyone these days and when you are attacked even when you are right it costs to defend it. So let’s get to the problem.
This weekend I was sent a WEB site for a group of licensed Texas Home Inspectors that were advertising a specific service. The group is composed of four Inspectors licensed by the Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) and a “Consultant” that is actually licensed by another Texas State agency. The entire WEB site was meant to do nothing but incite fear in consumers and leave the consumer with the impression these Home Inspectors were the experts in Texas regarding this issue. On this WEB site the following glaring deceptions (glaring to me as I am knowledgeable on these things) were made.
- These Inspectors claim to have performed large amounts of research and evaluation of this issue, as if they spent inordinate amounts of time doing this and still supposedly running their business. There were also inferences to the “consortium” (that is what they called themselves) also performing research around the country regarding this issue. None of this “research” is being backed by any funds from other sources that they named. This type of activity is expensive and well beyond the financial capability of even a group of typical Home Inspectors.
- The “consortium” claims they are “aligned” with several Federal government agencies that either directly or indirectly deal with this building issue. In one case they even tell the consumer to report the problem to the “consortium” and give a link to one of the Federal agency’s consumer reporting form. The language infers that somehow this “consortium” is notified by that Federal agency since they are “aligned with” them. In fact any notification that Federal agency does provide them is the same that you or I could sign up for.
- If you read their site and compare it to links for these Federal agencies you will easily see that all they have done is lift material directly from the Fed’s WEB site and reprinted it on their site. Sometimes they give credit to the Fed’s but mostly they either claim it is theirs or very craftily hide any credit to the Feds.
- They make inferences that they have created special procedures and methods to deal with the issue but never once talk about their procedures and methods. Instead they do make some mention of the Fed’s procedures and methods.
- When they offer advice on various aspects they state “This is the advice offered by so and so Federal agency and this consortium” (not the exact words but the same intention) leaving the inference they somehow are part of creating that advice. Again the advice is nothing more than what they lifted from the Feds WEB site(s).
I can go on and on and on about all of the things I see on this site and how they make it appear they are the supposed experts on this issue, and how they infer recognition by Federal agencies, etc., etc. The truth is the entire WEB site is geared towards scaring consumers into using their services. Where the information about the building problem is true the rest of the site is pure BUNK!
Unfortunately to the consumer who knows little to nothing about the subject it sure sounds scary and they sound impressive. Of special interest on the site is a claim that would actually be humorous if the site was not so pathetic and deviant. One of the Federal agencies that this “consortium” claims to be aligned with is the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC is the Federal watchdog entrusted with enforcing the laws against deceptive advertising.
So what are the solutions to this problem? Read on for more on how to help protect yourself.
[tab: The Solutions]
You’re probably wondering why I don’t turn these people into TREC? After all, shouldn’t I be policing my own profession to help protect the consumers? You’re absolutely correct on those assumptions, but there are various reasons why these type of operations (or “consortium” as they like to call themselves) are not turned into TREC. As much as many good Inspectors would like to do that it really is a waste of our time and effort in some cases, such as this.
In this case this “consortium” is offering a service that is well beyond the TREC Standards of Practice (SOP) and falls into the heavy gray area of whether TREC even would control them and their operation. Unfortunately TREC only deals with “black” (clearly out of their control) and “white” (clearly within their control) situations/conditions. If it isn’t “white” then TREC tends to turn a blind eye to it.
Another unfortunate aspect is even though this “consortium” is comprised of TREC licensed Home Inspectors they are advertising on this site for only this service. They call themselves “Inspectors” but nowhere on the site do they indicate they are TREC licensed Inspectors. They are treating this here as a stand alone inspection service for this one building defect issue. At that point TREC has no real control over them for this service since the Inspectors do not require a license of any type to inspect for this one condition. The only one that needs a license for this operation is the Consultant doing any acts under their license. The only way that TREC will be involved is if they provide this service as part of a whole home inspection.
There is another solution to this problem and it is in the hands of you, the consumer. Even if a licensed Inspector would turn these people in TREC, through their previous actions and inferences, will do little or take a great deal of time to handle any Inspector complaint. TREC will respond more quickly to a consumer complaint. But before we discuss how you can deal with this issue and TREC let’s discuss how you can avoid this situation altogether. Read on for more tips to protect yourself.
[tab: What you can do]
As a consumer the best defense is to not even get involved with these type of operations. It is very sad but the laws, both Texas State and Federal, are not written strong enough to protect you from these deceptive practices. What is worse is if you do get involved with them, and taken for a ride, your problems have just begun. You will go through much aggravation, and possibly large expenses, to fight and win against them.
When you are reading through WEB sites, advertisements, or even directly speaking with these types of deceptive operations here are some red flags to send you running the other way!
- Watch out for all of the various claims these people make! Start checking out these claims. As soon as you encounter even one grandiose claim that is a lie you can stop right there and move onto someone else. If they are willing to lie about some big claim they make then how much more are they willing to lie or stretch the truth? What can you expect from them if you do contract their services.
- If any group claims to be “aligned” or “affiliated” with any government agency then be very careful! Governmental offices/entities rarely, if at all, affiliate or align themselves with any private, for profit business. The government is very particular about lending their name to any business for the purposes of marketing that business’ service or product. Governments are not in the business of providing accreditation to businesses. If you see this then call the government agency that the business lists, explain to them what you have found, and ask what alignment or affiliation that government agency has with that private business?
- If you are truly interested in using that business’ service then take a minute to read through their advertisement material. If they provide links to other locations about the subject of your interest then check those out as well. Make sure that what the business is saying and advising is truly theirs if they say so. As in the example above this business was just lifting material right from the government WEB sites and in many cases treating it as theirs. Plagiarism is an reprehensible offense but copyright infringement is illegal! If they are willing to do that on their advertisements then what type of service or end product do you think you will get?
- If the business is claiming all types of certifications, and sporting all kinds of logos, on their advertisement then take a minute to check those as well. I frequently run into Home Inspectors’ WEB sites that sport all kinds of logos and claim all kinds of credentials. When checking these I am amazed to see how many of those are outright false or blown way out of proportion. If you are having difficulties checking these things then email me and I’ll help where I can.
If you are encountering these types, and other, red flags then move on to another business and don’t even consider using their services or product! Hopefully though you don’t stop there. These types of deceptive businesses will continue to operate even if you pass them by. They survive to go on and rip off your beloved Grandmother, Grandfather, or other relative/friend you cherish dearly. They survive because almost all consumers stop at just passing them by. This allows them to continue operating under the appropriate authorities radar.
Even large government agencies such as the FTC can not find all of these deceptive businesses without your help. When you encounter one of these deceptive businesses take a minute to send a simple email to the government agency, or sometimes even other private businesses, who you believe that rogue businesses is violating. It doesn’t take much other than giving them the scammers WEB site or if possible printed advertisement. Add a very short description of why you think it is deceptive. You would be surprised at how many government agencies and businesses will review what you give them and take action on it!
Only you can protect yourself and help the rest of your family, friends, and other loved ones prevent from getting ripped off!
[tab: Links and References]
PS Inspection & Property Services LLC is a full service home inspection and light commercial inspection company servicing the entire Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. We strive to for the satisfaction of our customers in everything we do. Our services offerings include:
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