Home inspectors assess the integrity of building structures and test systems such as electrical, water, sewage/septic, heating, and cooling. Their inspections may include looking for evidence of infestation by destructive insects such as termites or carpenter ants. Members of the profession also test for potential health hazards such as lead-based paint, molds, asbestos, water impurities, radon, and carbon monoxide.
The vast majority of home inspections are ordered by or on behalf of prospective homebuyers. The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) estimates that 77% of homes sold in the United States and Canada are inspected prior to purchase, and that the percentage is growing. Fees commonly run in the range of $250 to $500 to cover a basic checklist for a given house, with extra items covered at additional cost. The end product of the inspection normally is a formal, standardized, written report that describes the building’s condition and lists any repairs or improvements that are either suggested or necessary. Real estate agents are the primary source of referrals for home inspectors.
The field should appeal to someone who wants to be his (her) own boss, enjoys meeting people, and would rather be out of the office rather than at a desk all day. Prerequisites include an interest in solving problems and in understanding how things work. Writing skills are also important. Prior experience in construction or related fields (including heating, plumbing, electricity, etc.) is a huge plus.
Inspections commonly last about 2-3 hours, with the prospective homebuyer (or a representative) normally invited. Thus, a good home inspector is comfortable interacting with clients at varying levels of technical sophistication. Giving clear, plain-English explanations of technical matters is essential. Offering homeownership tips (such as showing how to turn off water and power in an emergency) is often part of the process.
The narrow time window around the closure of many home purchases requires fast service. Inspectors normally deliver their written report within 24 hours of the inspection, sometimes even giving it to the customer on site immediately following the inspection. You should be comfortable with short deadlines and writing on a laptop PC.
At least 29 states regulate home inspectors. See what standards your state imposes. They may include formal courses, an exam, a period of apprenticeship, continuing education, and perhaps also re-testing. Ask real estate professionals in your area what they look for in an inspector before recommending that person to a homebuyer. There are several nationwide associations of home inspectors (such as the American Society of Home Inspectors, the National Association of Home Inspectors, and the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors). Understand which, if any, of these has the most clout in your area, before considering which, if any, to join.
Also determine how much you have to invest in equipment, which depends on what types of inspections you plan to conduct. Note that some states have begun to mandate certain inspections before a real estate transaction can close. To function as an inspector, you must be able to do these mandated tests. Also understand the cost of business liability and/or malpractice insurance that you may have to carry and whether home inspectors have become targeted by lawsuits in your area. If all these check out favorably, you can start taking your first steps toward entering the field.
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