As often we do this time of year, I am looking back not just at 2010, but the 21+ years that I have been doing Home and Building Inspections. After my ramblings about the past, I will share with you some thoughts I have on the future of my industry and housing in general.
Getting Into the Business:
Back in 1987-88, I started getting an interest in Home Inspections after reading a couple of articles in builder magazines that I subscribed to. The fact that it was getting harder and harder to get my back to straighten out in the morning and get the numbness in my hammer hand to go away was also telling me to find a new profession. Home inspections were wide open then, not many buyers, sellers or real estate sales people knew about us. To get into the business, you printed some business cards one day, distributed them to agents the next day (along with your spiel) and waited for the phone to ring.
There wasn’t then, and still isn’t now, a requirement to have a licence to inspect houses or buildings in Ohio. I met with a guy that had been doing Inspections for a couple of years and joined a group called ASHI® (American Society of Home Inspectors). ASHI required me to pass a closed book test, be a candidate for a year, and do 250 fee-paid inspections before I could advertice myself as a member that followed their Code of Ethics and Standards.
Business improved as our marketing improved and the message got out that we could be the “eyes” for uninformed buyers. Some bumps occurred along the way, people thinking we could see behind walls and that we were offering a warranty on the components of the house. I found this work rewarding (and still do) in the sense that I could impart all the knowledge I had gained as a Carpenter/Contractor and get paid at the end of the inspection. The interaction with people, day in and day out, also improved my communication skills.
People and Places: Then
Twenty years ago most of my inspections were for college educated first time buyers moving into the area, or relocation companies buying houses from people being transfered out. The homes were usually less then twenty years old and in the suburbs. I looked at houses all over the northeast section of Ohio (Canton, Akron, Cleveland, Lorain, Elyria, Put-in-Bay, Kelleys Island, Sandusky, Mentor, Medina, Wooster, Mansfield, Cambridge, Dover, New Philadelphia, Youngstown, East Liverpool, Steubenville, St. Clairsville) and the river cities of West Virginia’s panhandle. I enjoyed then, and still do, seeing the different parts of the state and meeting people from all walks of life.
Things began to change when a clause was added to the sales contracts allowing a buyer the right to have the home inspected and withdraw their offer if they were not happy with the results. Many of the real estate professionals (agents, brokers, loan originators, and others) were not happy to see a commission being lost over negative findings by inspectors. Sellers also hated to lose the sale.
About this time, a Seller Disclosure Form was introduced by the state and made a requirement of all home sales. Some thought that this form would lessen the need for inspections… not so. Now, we were inspecting houses in all areas and across all social-economic groups. People became more open and honest about the house and buyers realized that our inspections were meant to help them understand their new property, not just to be used as a tool to get out of the deal or beat-down the price. But, if a major concerns shows up, there is a report to help them address the problem with the seller.
I started inspecting with a flashlight, screwdriver, five dollar outlet tester, and a small ladder. The report was three pages long with the items that I was required, by ASHI Standards, to inspect listed and the words “Good, Fair, Poor” typed in under each listing. If I circled “Good” nothing more was written. “Fair” would get a short comment, as would “Poor”. Most of my time was spent explaining to the buyer the workings of the house.
After the inspection, I would go back to the office to fill out the report, make three copies, and mail out two copies to the buyer. Job done. Some days, I could do three or four inspections if the locations weren’t far apart.
I then developed a 32 page NCR report that listed the required items and descriptions that could be checked off, and a space for notes. Now I could do the report on site and give a copy to the buyer at the end if the inspection. This worked fairly well except for my lousy handwriting and spelling skills.
I then went to a computer generated report system that allowed me to carry a handheld computer and input findings as I did the inspection. Great, but I lost touch with the buyer as I hunted and pecked for the right “boilerplate” to insert in the report. Then to get the report to print on the little, but expensive, printer was another problem. So, I started taking notes at the inspection and going back to the office to fill out the report that was then mailed, faxed or emailed (if they had email) to the buyer. I started only doing one or two inspections a day to allow me time to fill in the report and not skip something important.
Along the way I amassed a collection of inspection tools that have cost me over $5,000.00, and it seems every year there is a new toy that I just have to have.