Beware home buyers: Illinois does not require developers to be licensed, and city inspectors are not assessing the construction quality of the residence. The inspectors are responsible only for citing public-safety hazards such as an insufficient number of fire escapes.
"In Illinois, you have 'Wall Street' developers who drive cars and talk on phones and hire subcontractors. They don't build anything," said Nick Gromicko, founder of the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, based in Boulder, Colo.
"Most states have very minimal or no licensing of developers and contractors," he said.
Contractors work with the skilled trades industries, so they don't have to be masons, plumbers or roofers, said a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. A contractor has to be a good businessman, and there is no license for that, the spokeswoman said.
The IDFPR licenses architects, roofers, engineers and home inspectors.
The Illinois Department of Health licenses plumbers.
Gromicko said he believes the model law is Florida's, where prospective developers must pass an exam and take continuing education courses each year.
Chicago requires that general contractors obtain a license from the Department of Buildings. The application requires that the construction company show the appropriate business licenses and a sufficient amount of insurance to cover the size of the proposed project, said department spokesman Pete Scales.
City inspectors, or any other government inspector, will check only for safety issues on new construction.
"A leaking window is something [government inspectors] wouldn't even catch," Gromicko said.
Scales said city building inspectors review basic life-safety issues such as proper ventilation and lighting, and properly installed electrical and plumbing systems.
"They're not able to measure the quality of construction," Scales said.
The developer is responsible for correcting any problems.
New condos need a once-over by a certified home inspector, Gromicko said.
"A brand new home isn't a perfect home. It was built by human beings -- a variety of people who don't know each other and who may differ from one part of the construction to another," he said. "It's not the quality-control assembly line that people believe."
Gromicko recommends that a potential buyer pay $250 to $300 to get a certified inspector to do a once-over on a new condo before he or she closes on the purchase.
The national association requires its members to take 30 hours of continuing education each year. Home inspectors who belong to the national association can be found on the Web site at www.nachi.org
The association's requirements compare with Illinois' rule that home inspectors take 12 hours of continuing education every two years, after they complete an initial 60 hours of pre-license education.
The inspector will come up with a "punch list" of items that need correcting, and the would-be buyer can insist that the developer resolve the problems before he purchases the unit.
Once the problem is disclosed by the inspector, the listing agent must disclose it to every other potential buyer, Gromicko said.
New-construction warranties are good for one year, so a homeowner who failed to get an inspection before closing should get one before his first year of ownership ends, Gromicko said.
Tom Corbett, president of Tomacor Inc., a Chicago-based home inspection company, said he believes developers should be licensed because they have a fiduciary responsibility to the people who've bought homes from them.
He believes such licensing should ensure that the developer be able to read blueprints, be fully bonded for the cost of the construction work, and be certified as to level of competence and understanding of the building code.
Corbett said he has seen some developers remove a "significant amount of money for dubious expenses" from a development's reserve fund just before turning over the building to the new homeowners. "The developer was charging the building tens of thousands of dollars for electrical consumption because ComEd hadn't put in the meters," he said. "Often, there is not good accounting" for the money.