Home Inspection Mission: Impossible

Charles Buell PhotoCharles Buell Blog and Website - Seattle, Washington

Let’s talk about what it means to be a home inspector.

I will present the ridiculous argument that our job is not really possible.

Our mission is so impossible, that for quite some time, we have attempted to put our job inside an insulated “box” surrounded by a “force-field” typically referred to as the“Standards of Practice.” In most cases these Standards of Practice are considered a guide as to the “minimum” we are required to do in the context of performing an inspection for a client.

inspectoroneThey can also describe the worst inspection we are allowed to do.

Anyone that has done inspections for very long, comes face to face with the fact that what we do, and what we must know, in order to do this job effectively, cannot be contained within this imaginary force field.

Those who insist on maintaining this illusion, in many cases, are not providing much value to their clients and typically will run into the occasional lawsuit or client’s complaints as evidence.  That said, absolutely no inspector is immune from lawsuits.  There is little that can be done to ward off the client that makes a hobby out of suing people.  Even the best inspectors sometimes must be lucky.

That these types of minimalist inspections are intertwined with what is expected by many real estate agents and the home buying process in general, does not alter the desire, of an ever more aware public, to want more real information about the properties they are buying.

It does not matter one bit how unrealistic those expectations might be, therefore it is important that inspectors bring everyone back down to earth, while still providing exceptional service.

This means that home inspectors not only have to know more, they have to be willing to spend the kind of time it takes, both on the inspection and sometimes after the inspection, finding out additional information and/or teaching themselves whatever it was they did not know.

Many inspectors will say that it is not our job to do this. That is fine, but in my opinion that is a business model attempting to stay inside the old force-field-bubble model of doing inspections.  Inside that bubble, all that matters is the Standards of Practice. Inspectors dependent on referrals from agents for the work will likely find this necessary.

However, lately I have noticed there seems to be more and more agents willing to step outside the illusion of the safety of minimalist inspections.

There is a range of business models that is outside of this.  Models that allow for better service to the consumer. Models where we can charge more money for the inspection and in this way make up for doing fewer inspections.  This can give us time to keep up with new information and make our jobs quite a bit of fun at the same time. Making the same amount of money doing fewer inspections means there will be more work for other inspectors as well.                                              bottlefliesgreen2

So what are the “boundaries” if we are not going to use the Standards of Practice as a guide to the boundaries? For me, the boundaries are solely defined by the house being inspected and that everything in the context of that home is fair game.

There are no boundaries except the ones we set and allowed by law (assuming we are in a licensed state)!

Meeting the requirements set forth in the Standards of Practice is child’s play and is assumed with every inspection. Teaching someone about their purchase takes experience, willingness, and a learning process that never ends. It is a bit like cake and frosting. Limiting ourselves to the Standards of Practice is a bit like offering up only cake. Most people will want some frosting, filling and blueberries on top as well–and perhaps even multiple pieces of that cake.

But this is where the panic sets in for many inspectors.

I can hear the “but’s” and I can feel the tentacles of anguish grasping at me through the pixels on my monitor–wanting to strangle me.

The very notion of this idea is very threatening to many inspectors because they might be forced to provide better service themselves.  The reality is that any change in this direction is likely to be VERY slow and many business models are likely to find a place in the market place for a long time to come.  I have a dream of seeing it change–but I am not holding my breath.  For now, it works for me and a few other inspectors I know.

For inspectors that want to treat this job like a check list to be handed to the client when they leave the inspection and head for the next inspection, I have some sobering news regardless. You will continue to have to answer the calls about what you missed, or should have found. You will continue to have to solicit real estate agents because even after ten years you still are not getting enough referrals from happy clients.  You may even be dealing with boredom and burnout from doing two and three inspections a day.

Then again perhaps you are happy as a clam with your business model and would not change a thing.  I knew one inspector that just figured that complaints and lawsuits were just a normal part of doing business.

If your client does not remember you after 10 years you likely did not impress them very much. Unless of course you missed enough things that they remember you all too well.  In that case it is likely a double whammy and you may also be missing out on all the referrals they would have given their friends as well.

The more we can learn and the more we know, the better position we will be in to provide reliable information at the time of inspection and in the report to follow that can help avoid some of the instances of calls for “further evaluation” by applicable trade’s persons etc.

Now back to the hard part.

This is MISSION IMPOSSIBLE.

  1. We likely will never know as much as a licensed structural engineer, a licensed electrician, a licensed plumber, a licensed HVAC contractor, or a licensed roofing contractor. However, the more we do know about what it takes to perform the tasks of these trades, the better we can serve our clients.
  2. 2. We cannot ever know all the various codes that cover everything we inspect, in all the jurisdictions we inspect, over all the different age structures we inspect, but the more we do know about the codes, both old and new, the better we can serve our clients.
  3. 3. We cannot ever know all the various requirements of all the manufacturer’s installation instructions–over all the different incarnations of those appliances.  Never mind any recalls associated with those appliances. However the more we know the better we can serve our clients.

All of this said, most inspectors have experienced many instances of where they knew more than the applicable licensed trade. This can be because the tradesperson might not be old enough to know past requirements or has not kept up with their own continuing education, or has simply forgotten.  And of course there is always stubbornness.

inspectortwoThere is a dark secret that home inspectors would prefer to put a lid on what we have to know to do our job.

To go beyond this basic information would mean we would have to “work” at being a home inspector.

So while it is indeed mission impossible, it is mission double-impossible the less we know.

There is this notion we should be able to graduate from Home Inspector School, pass the licensing exam and that is all there is to it.  Except for having a big enough wheel barrow to cart all the money to the bank and except for the annoyance of continuing education. Well that is one business model–but it does come with its “costs.”

Few buyers will fault you for all the tons of information you provide them that is beyond the call of duty. In fact they are more likely to forgive you the little things you missed because of it.

It seems that all of the different home inspector business models I am aware of are an attempt at finding a balance between making money and taking care of the client. I won’t discuss how much self-delusion is involved with some models. For myself I want to ere as much as I can on the side of taking care of the client, and know that in doing so, the money will happen. I won’t likely be able to do more than one inspection a day–but doing more than one has its downsides as well.

I may not become a millionaire inspecting homes–but that likely has its downside too.

But now we are likely headed toward philosophy and politics—and not the focus of this post.

While in many respects our job can be seen as not  being possible, it is still way better than the alternative of doing nothing at all.  Along with what is not possible there will always be tremendous amounts of our job that are possible, and our clients will need to come to understand that both are true of any home they may be buying.

 

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

ASHI member Charles Buell has been designing and building residential structures for over 35 years and currently sits on the Washington State Home Inspector License Advisory Board.

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