Founder, International Association of Certified Home Inspectors
The seller has accepted your clients' offer and now, with your help, your clients must choose a home inspector. Should you steer them toward the inspector who writes the softest reports? Should you steer them toward the inspector who pays to be on your office's preferred vendor list? Should you help them find the cheapest inspector? The answers to these questions are of course No, No, and Hell, no.
You have a fiduciary duty to your client and, therefore, must recommend the very best inspectors. If you recommend a patty-cakeinspector, an inspector who indirectly pays for your recommendation, or a cheap inspector, you violate your fiduciary duty to your client.
The National Association of REALTORs defines your duties in their Code of Ethics. Article 1 requires you to protect and promote your clients' interests. Article 6 requires you to disclose any financial benefit you may receive from recommending related real estate services (this also includes any benefit to your broker).
Because most real estate agents get paid only if the real estate transaction successfully takes place, your personal interests and your fiduciary duties already conflict. Don't make your situation any worse. The best way to avoid negligent referral claims, to operate ethically, and to fulfill your fiduciary duty is to help your client find an inspector based solely on merit. And although no real estate agent can guarantee the thoroughness of any particular inspector, there is a strong correlation between an inspector's fees and his/her competence (in other words, you get what you pay for). Helping your client find a cheap inspector for the purchase of their lifetime is a violation of your fiduciary duty. When in doubt, shop price, and seek out the most expensive inspectors for your clients.