Home Buying Basics – How to Find a Qualified Home Inspector

Home inspection is an integral part of real estate investment. If you are considering buying a property, you should hire home inspection service. Most people do not realize how important it is to find a home inspector, whether you are selling your house or buying a new one. Bluntly, some inspectors are less credible when it comes to their background and qualifications. In order to find a home inspector that suits your liking and preferences, the following should be considered as a resource:

The California Real Estate Inspection Association (CREIA) – Most legitimate businesses in San Diego and the rest of California are members of CREIA. If you ask reputable real estate brokerages, most of them require their agents to work with members of this association. As with most states, a particular member of an association cannot advertise its connection with a particular group until this member has reached the strict minimum standards of a practicing member. CREIA has developed Standards of Practice that define the minimum scope of a home inspection. It also has a Code of Ethics that requires its members to exhibit the highest levels of professionalism, integrity, dedication, and good faith in any dealings with the client. By doing these, associations like CREIA ensures clients that they are dealing with a reputable and reliable home inspection service provider.

Another surefire way of finding a qualified inspector for your home is by asking for opinions and feedback. Talk to friends who have had inspection services recently. How satisfied are they to the services of the inspector? Did their inspector do a great job? You can also ask them the processes that they went through in finding the house inspector for their residence.

If you have a trusted real estate agent, ask for some recommendations. Agents deal with house inspections everyday. They often have first-hand experience on how home inspectors work and they surely know who the good inspectors are. However, take care not to immediately get the services of your real estate agent, unless you completely trust him. Usually, agents recommend the ones who will help them get the deal that they want. Ask the agent at least three references and then use these names as a starting point in your search for a home inspector.

If you do not know friends who have had a home inspection service or an agent who can give referrals, you may utilize the yellow pages to find a home inspector. If you live in San Diego, search for local names first before moving on the companies in other states. Try searching online yellow pages because they have feedback pages where you can check out what other people are saying about a particular service provider.

Before you finally hire the services of the home inspector, remember to check out the home inspector of your choice. Secure copies of their previous inspection reports to determine how thorough they are when it comes to home inspection. Ask about their record of accomplishment. Ask for the names of their specific clients and if possible, try calling a few of their previous clients to find out if the home inspection service did a good job with them. It will not hurt to ask so that you are sure that what you would be paying is worth your money.

How Much Do Home Inspector Certifications Matter Anyway?

A trend I’ve been noticing in a down economy is that when people are losing their jobs, unemployment rises, and work is harder to come by, education systems come out of the wood-works. As people have been forced to become more creative and ‘entrepreneurial-minded’, a whole new industry has boomed, offering professional certifications for just about anything, as long as you have the money to spend.

For example, before I made my way into the home inspection industry in Colorado Springs, I obtained two different certifications while experimenting with other careers in 2007 and 2008 for two very different fields: heavy equipment operation, and personal fitness training.

The heavy equipment operating school I attended in Las Vegas (The Nevada School of Construction, a.k.a. NAHETs) was straight forward, and not completely relevant to what I’m about to point out, except for this: I spent a lot of money to acquire training and certifications to market myself to prospective employers, but in the end, those certifications were basically just ‘marketing tools’. Telling a construction company that I was ‘certified’ was supposed to help me stand out above the rest, but aside from some very basic proficiency with the machines, by the time I found a real job running that heavy equipment, it was completely obvious to that employer how painfully ‘green’ I was while working. Spending a lot of money for that certification was just a way market myself, and it did not mean that I was a good heavy equipment operator.

When I went into personal training, the certification schools available were extremely similar in structure to the certification organizations involved in the home inspection industry, which I’ll get into in a minute.

Most large gyms in Las Vegas only employed trainers who were certified by one or more certain educational organizations. I obtained my certification through NESTA (The National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association), one of the larger (but not the biggest) educational companies out there for trainers.

And here’s how it works:

You pay NESTA $300 or so for some study material (an e-book and a few DVD’s, as I recall), which, upon passing the multiple choice test at an approved testing location, you become a member, and have the right to utilize their logos in marketing yourself. To KEEP your certification and membership, you must regularly enroll in continuing education, choosing from various other courses, indefinitely. Keeping that membership and the title of being ‘NESTA-certified’, you’d have to continue paying the organization, year after year.

Now, in all honesty, I enjoyed the education. But I didn’t learn anything from their materials that I couldn’t have learned just as easily on my own. But I had been convinced that education provided from a certification company was special.

NESTA, and other larger educational organizations like it, have utilized a tactic to carve out a business niche and change the standards of the personal training industry across the country to propagate the belief that such certifications are necessary. And this circular belief continues to reinforce such a standard, while anyone serious about going into the business for themselves could accomplish the same education on their own. Such educational entities ultimately enjoy forcing these small entrepreneurs into becoming a member to satisfy this artificial perception.

In 2012, after years in the construction and home improvement industries (and a brief stint in personal training, of course), I took my residential construction and marketing experience, and set my focus on the home inspection business.

And I was not surprised to see the same, similar model of self-serving professional certification businesses there.

Now, in the home inspection industry, there are likewise many certification companies to choose from. The big ones are ASHI (The American Society of Home Inspectors), NACHI (The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, a.k.a. InterNACHI), NAHI (The National Association of Home Inspectors), and NIBI (The National Institute of Building Inspectors). There are many others, less-widely known.

The model is the same. You pay a few hundred dollars to take their exam and become a member. Some organizations will try to sell you expensive in-person training, and match you up with one of their certified instructors in your state, if possible. You will have to pay substantial yearly dues to remain a member, and you will also need to take continuing education to keep your certification valid. You’ll continue paying the organization, year after year.

To someone new to the real estate or construction industry, this basic education in home inspection (if you opt to pay for the expensive training) can be valuable to an extent, but only as valuable as my basic heavy equipment operating training was to me. A brand new home inspector with a certification may have never raised a hammer before in his life. And even though he may be very inexperienced, even incompetent, he can then use that certification as a banner to get business because the real estate industry has been manipulated to believe that having a big-name certification means he’ll do good work.

The major advantage of being certified is the ability to use the certification organization’s logos and their marketing tools. Some may have a marketing ‘network’ on the web to help provide leads. This marketing ability can actually be quite powerful and effective, because just like with the personal training industry, the home inspection certification industry has carved out their own niche in the real estate world to where many realtors and customers are led to believe that certifications are necessary. And you’ll often see home inspectors with these large, expensive certifications helping to continue this myth, because they are now bound to it by the recurring expense they incur to maintain them.

I believe that the focus of professional certification businesses is to build their own cash flow more than it is to provide the great educational background that people are led to believe a certification stands for. A professional certification can be extremely valuable as a marketing tool for an inspector going into business, but that’s about it. The organization may provide (for sale, of course) the inspector with various forms, maybe a business model, and other shortcuts to get them on their way, but when you examine these things, it becomes clear that the primary goal is to just make more money for the certification companies.

In my business, for instance, I examined some of these forms (available for sale from certification companies) before designing my own, and found their legal strength convoluted and weak. When I first considered getting into the business, I bought an excellent book/manual for the industry from Amazon, and found that many certification companies use that very book for course materials. And as far as their testing standards? One of my inspectors informed me that when he, himself, was perusing the major certification companies, he applied to one of the big organizations online and aced their exam without a lick of study, based on his construction background.

Christopher Solomon of MSN Real Estate, author of the e-article “4 tips for finding the best home inspector”*, states:

“Don’t trust an inspector simply because he or she has a state license or certification… the training may be so minimal that it is ineffective.”

What this all boils down to is that, whether you are a customer looking for a home inspector, or a realtor networking with home inspectors, a builder or construction professional considering home inspection as a new career, or anyone else in the real estate industry exposed to the myth that a certification is required… remember that it’s a myth. Certification organizations are in the business of making money from people who believe they need certifications. And you can bet that those companies, and the successful home inspectors who are tied to them, will continue pushing the myth, even so far as lobbying for state regulation that ends up giving those organizations even more business.

That’s why I don’t pay much attention to certifications, but, instead, focus on the experience a potential (inspector) applicant already HAS, in real estate, development, home building, renovations, etc., before he ever decided to get into the property inspection business in the first place.

And you should too.

So You Want to Be a Home Inspector?

What I am about to tell you may get me in hot water with all those self help experts and schools that promote home inspection courses and basically anyone who makes money off of new home inspector’s. That’s OK I can take the heat.

First let’s take care of the myth that a home inspector can make $20,000 to $30,000 a year part time and $60,000 to $80,000 full time. This myth is perpetuated by educators and self help experts. The reality is that you do not make any where near that type of money in the first year, maybe the second year but for most it’ll be the third year. Many new inspectors are not aware of this reality and become disillusioned and do one of two things either quit or slash their inspection fees hoping to gain more business. The latter is not a good idea because it will hurt your fellow inspectors and more than likely you’ll quit finding that the lower fees won’t pay the bills.

Another reality that you are not informed about is cost. It can cost you a pretty penny from thermal cameras, high tech equipment to educational courses. These could cost you between $10,000 and $15,000 and that doesn’t even include vehicles, licenses, errors and omission and general liability insurance, association fees etc… Are you scared yet? you should be.

You need to walk into this with your eyes open and you’ll be OK. Oh, and by the way you will need a second income to survive. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great industry to get involved in and the rewards can be great in the long term and the key words are long term. You need to develop a game plan and stick to it through thick and thin and it should involve a lot of marketing, website development and personal study. Below are some quick pointers to guide you along the right path.

Before you start anything do your research and the first place to hit is the industries message boards. Here you will feel the pulse of the industry from new and seasoned inspectors. Go to local chapter meetings. When you have completed that first step and feel you still want to become an inspector research your local community and see if it can support another inspector at this time. In the big urban areas this is not as much a factor as it is in rural areas.

If you are still interested then it is time to research your education. Research your home inspector schools, not all are created equal. Pick the best one that fits your budget. If you have a trades background you’ll have a leg up, but remember building, repairs and installation are different animals than inspecting. If you do not have a trades background it’s time to hit the books and read on everything about the systems of a home.

You should also join a national association, the three biggies in the U.S. are the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, American Society of Home Inspectors and National Association Of Home Inspectors. In Canada you have the Canadian National Association of Certified Home Inspectors and Canadian Association of Property and Home Inspectors. For dollar value I think InterNACHI is the best with the amount of free education and member benefits they offer inspectors. Many states and provinces have their regional associations as well, think about joining them they represent you at a local level.

Now that you are on your way to becoming a home inspector, another item that should be in your arsenal is your reporting software. The most popular are Home Inspector Pro, Home Gauge and 3D. I personally use HIP because of it’s ease of use. The other inspecting programs are just as good. You need to research which one will suit your needs. They all offer free trial downloads so that you can experiment with them. Remember, you definitely need software, checklists are so 80’s and 90’s that they scream newbie. Also get a website that matches your software. In this day and age of online shopping you are basically dead without one.

I have given you some reality checks and some pointers even though I did not touch on many things that will effect you, that is part of your research assignment about entering the property inspection field. Remember my warning, this isn’t a get rich quick scheme, instead it is a lot of hard work and long hours. If anyone tells you differently they are doing you a disservice. So take off those rose colored glasses, get down to some hard work and a lot of studying, some heart breaking moments which will eventually be followed by elation and join me in this wonderful world of home inspections.