IT'S TOUGH TO BE A HOME INSPECTOR
or at least, it's tough to be one that gets it right.
By Dave Hahn
You know the saying; "Jack of all trades, master of none." Well, I put it to you that we need to be a Jack of all trades and master of most. But it's hard to know it all. Heck, we're not supposed to cite code (or at least not without conducting the entire home inspection "using the building codes in effect at the time of the construction, renovation, and any subsequent installation or replacement of any system or component of the home") and it's no wonder. With constant updates, county/municipal specific interpretations, and exceptions upon exceptions, plus the sheer volume of it, keeping up with what is in effect can be difficult. But I believe we should have a strong command of a high level of standards, especially when inspecting new construction.
But it's tough to be a home inspector. There are variances from manufacturer to manufacturer in how something should be installed correctly. One example is that some manufacturers prohibit woven valley installations for laminated "architectural" shingles (e.g., GAF), while some recommend other methods be used (e.g., CertainTeed/Landmark), such as cut valleys or open valleys. Still, some manufacturers either allow it (e.g., Owens Corning) or appear to be silent one way or another (e.g., Tamko). And what about fiber-cement siding? Should the butt joints be flashed or caulked? Well, some yes and some no ... and it depends when it was installed.
But it's tough to be a home inspector. While we don't know as much as our counterparts in any specific licensed trade, again, I feel we still should be a "master of most." This mastery comes from education and experience. Yes, we all have our minimum requirement of continuing education (only recently dropped from 16 credit hours to 12), and some have to do more for ancillary certifications they may hold. But do you look at continuing education as a chore, or a way of enriching yourself in your profession? The latter is the attitude of a career professional, the former is someone going through the motions until they move on to their next job.
But it's tough to be a home inspector. How much value do we bring our clients if the majority of our report is filled with "I dunno. This requires subsequent examination or further investigation by a specialist." I've heard more than one real estate agent bemoan, "I'm done with home inspectors. All they do is refer out." Now, don't get me wrong, if you don't know, you don't know. After 13 years in this business I love that I still learn something new nearly every day (or learning that I was wrong on something that I thought I knew just the other day). But a lot of that comes from education, sometimes self-imposed. Participating in webinars, or taking courses you don't "have to," or reading manufacturer installation manuals, or talking to other inspectors at Association Chapter meetings or just picking up the phone and asking another inspector. We can't and don't know everything, nor can we be absolutely positive about many things. But I feel that a report that is routinely (and that's a key word here) wrought with "refer on" does our clients a disservice. Are you leaving them wondering after reading your 50-page report, this is all nice, but why did I hire you, I still need a plumber, an electrician, an HVAC contractor and an engineer to tell me whether it's OK?
But it's tough to be a home inspector. I know we all want to cover our rear ends, and that's certainly prudent in this day and age. And we certainly want "further investigation" on things we do find that are wrong so that any underlying damage is addressed, too. But through continued education, and even some wordsmithing, we can give our clients the implication and direction they need to form a request for action by the seller without more money spent by the buyer. So rather than routinely "recommending" further evaluation by a licensed contractor, what about a more definitive approach that covers our desire to have everything found, but that directs corrective action, not just investigation. One example might be "This condition warrants repair by a qualified trade professional, combined with further investigation to identify any other related conditions and the full extent of repairs necessary." In this approach, there is a directive or action that incorporates our desire to have things "investigated" above and beyond what we see or suspect.
But it's tough to be a home inspector. We all have our ways of reporting and phrasing what we mean. But let's not put ourselves out of business and instead let's prove our worth. Educate yourself. Get involved in your profession and be a "master of most."