Have What It Takes to Be a Home Inspector?

The businesses of selling homes and inspecting homes share certain qualities. If you’ve ever wondered what it would take to become an inspector, here’s your answer.

May 1, 2007

This is an excerpt from 21 Things Every Home Inspector Should Know.

You may already have an inkling that the home inspection business might be complicated and require some expertise, and that you probably will need to continue educating yourself if you want to continue to succeed. We’re here to help you get an idea of the minimum you will need to know to get started in the home inspection business, without harming yourself or anyone else.

A hint here: Prior experience in the construction industry is not a requirement for success. Home inspection is evolving rapidly beyond the days when a guy in dirty coveralls would arrive in a pickup truck between stops at construction sites to poke around a house for a while, mumble a few things, and then hand over a scrap of paper with a few notes scribbled on it.

Today’s computer-sophisticated home buyers expect a professional appearance, a professional inspection, and a professional report (and don’t much care whether their inspector is male or female). The key word is professional.

How Much Money Do I Need to Start?

You wouldn’t start on a long trip unless you had two things: A map, and enough money to get you there safely. The same is true in business — any business.

The map, in this case, is a business plan set out in black ink on white paper describing exactly what you want to accomplish and how you are going to accomplish it. Obviously, you don’t want to leap into the home inspection business unless you have some money stashed away to hold you over until your income starts catching up to your outflow. Specifically: You need to have enough money stockpiled to pay your rent or mortgage for several months. You need to have enough set aside so you and your family can eat. You need to have enough to keep the kids in school and gas in the car.

Certainly, if you have a spouse who has a steady job, that income will become more important as you start up your new business. Or you might consider initially experiencing the home inspection business on a part-time basis if you can work it around your current job or another steady source of income.

You also have the option of going it alone like most inspectors do, going into business with other inspectors (not nearly as common), or buying a “business in a box” as part of a franchise.

Estimates vary on how many inspectors choose the latter route, ranging from 4 percent at a minimum to 10 percent to 15 percent at the high end. Some people consider the franchise option the easiest because it offers ready-made professional literature, contracts, marketing and other documents, along with an instant network of colleagues and a constant source of advice and information. In the end, as in most things, your decision will hinge upon your comfort and confidence levels.

What Does an Inspection Involve?

For a moment, put aside your visions of working for yourself (true), building a business without being tied to a desk (sort of true), and the freedom to set your own schedule (not always true if you want to make any money).

The most important thing right now is to understand just what a home inspection is supposed to be.

At its simplest, a home inspection is an objective visual examination of a house, looking at its physical structure and its primary systems, from the foundation all the way up to the roof.

That means, in most basic terms, looking at the roof, attic, visible insulation, walls, ceilings, floors, windows, doors, foundation, basement, interior plumbing and electrical systems, the heating system (and possibly the central air-conditioning system), fireplace and chimneys, and grading and drainage. (It’s actually more complicated than that, but this gives you a general idea.)

Your task is to use your judgment and experience to give an opinion on whether the components and systems are working as they are intended to and to report any defects that could negatively affect the value of the property or pose a danger to someone — along with your recommendations for monitoring, correcting, or calling in an expert for further evaluation.

You are not required to inspect areas that are not readily accessible. Nor are you expected to put your life in danger or make a prediction on how long the systems and components will continue to function.

Remember: It’s not your job to say a house “passes” or “fails” inspection. Your job is to report what you find — the good and the bad — and let someone else (your client) decide what to do next.

Sounds Straightforward, Right?

Like most things in life, it’s not as easy as it seems. There are complicating factors.

First, you don’t get to make an inspection in a vacuum. There are other people involved, watching you and waiting for your report, and most definitely evaluating your performance. Your clients may expect you to have X-ray vision, to be all-knowing, and to guarantee the future. It will be your first task to explain the limitsof the standard home inspection.

Second, most inspections are an integral part of a real estate transaction. The results could make or break a deal, or cause it to be renegotiated. There’s no question that things can get strange when people and money are involved.

For right now, be aware that at the point of the real estate transaction where you come in, the deal is moving at great speed. You likely will be asked to do an inspection within a day or two, preferably yesterday, and chances are good that you will lose the job if you can’t fit into someone else’s schedule.

Add to that the fact that you probably haven’t met your client before you arrive at the house. Even if you do a wonderful job and leave the client happy, the statistics also show that most people live in a house for about eight years. That means you shouldn’t expect repeat business from a buyer client for a while.

Also complicating things is the very real possibility that regulatory forces may dictate how you do your work: what you must include in your visual examination and what you aren’t required to do. Currently, there is no federal oversight of the home inspection industry. But states have begun to regulate inspectors operating within their borders.

The regulations may be as restrictive as demanding that you have a high school diploma or equivalency, that you purchase a certain level of liability or errors and omissions insurance, and that your inspection includes specific things. A state also might say that anyone with an engineering degree is exempt from any home inspection requirements.

Or the regulations may be as loose as allowing anyone to obtain an inspector’s license for little more than paying the fee. And of course, there are some states that lack any kind of regulation or laws even mentioning home inspectors.

Most states have a licensing board or agency you can contact, or you could ask one of the national home inspector organizations because they generally monitor state licensing activities.

Another complicating factor is the threat of being sued by an unhappy buyer who wants to blame someone for problems with a new home. Following state requirements and an organization’s “standards of practice” are important, as is doing an extremely thorough job. Expertise, whether from experience or through training, is crucial.

Frank Cook is the author of 21 Things I Wish My Broker Had Told Me (Dearborn Real Estate Education, 2007), providing advice for rookie real estate practitioners.

Along with Frank Cook, Pat Remick is the author of 21 Things Every Home Inspector Should Know. Through interviews with dozens of respected inspectors, the book offers practical, hands-on advice for both experience and novice inspectors looking to grow their businesses.

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