Last week, I offered a little insight into Tennessee’s impending home inspector licensing law. Since I did home inspections in this state for about 20 years, I figured I’m just the guy to explain that home-inspector licensing is a concept created of, by and for special interest groups who make money every time a house is sold.
Home inspector licensing is not now, never has been, and likely never will be about consumer protection. It’s about pocketbook protection for real estate brokers and builders. Those groups have lobbyists and trainloads of money. Tennessee home inspectors have no lobbyists. With that information alone, you should be able to figure out who’s being served (salesfolk) and who’s getting jobbed (citizens).
When all the home inspectors in Tennessee are licensed, folks will tend to believe that they’re all equal in skill and intellect. Well, it’s not going to be that way. On one end, you’ll have home inspectors who are barely sentient, and would sell out a customer for the price of a set of recap tires. On the other end, you’ll have guys like my buddy Bill Loden down in Huntsville, a trustworthy man, and a real enough rocket scientist turned home inspector. Bill’s smart enough to know that the home inspection business has more than its share of backsliders and reprobates. To quote Bill, “Don’t tell my mama I’m a home inspector. She thinks I’m a piano player at a whorehouse.”
If you’re going to hire a home inspector anytime soon, take the advice of Tampa home inspector Mark Cramer. Cramer runs Mark Cramer Inspection Services Inc. and is a former president of the American Society of Home Inspectors (2000). Here’s what Cramer says: “There are huge differences among home inspectors. Like all professions or trades, the majority are mediocre. A small percentage are spectacularly bad. An even smaller percentage are very, very good. You want one of the good ones.
“Most homebuyers rely on their real estate agent for a referral to an inspector, but that’s an inherent conflict of interest. Here’s a dirty little secret: many home inspectors depend on agent referrals to stay in business. As a result, they tend to minimize defects, to keep the referring agents happy.
“Many agents categorize inspectors into three groups:
1. Inspectors they recommend when it’s their listing. These are the guys with poor eyesight and dull pencils.
2. Inspectors they recommend when they’re acting as buyer’s agents.
3. The inspector they recommend to their relatives. That’s the inspector you want.”
Here’s what another veteran of the business—who prefers to remain nameless—says about choosing a home inspector: “There’s a simple test, and it’s a fairly time-honored method. Choose an inspector based on price. Hire only the most expensive home inspector in your area. There’s a good reason that person charges the highest prices; it’s because he has a lot of satisfied customers and a referral base that can’t be corrupted.”
Let me add my two cents to what Cramer and Nameless said: first, the home inspector has to be honest. Regardless of licensing, credentials, or anything else, a home inspector who isn’t honest is worse than useless. Do whatever you have to do to satisfy yourself that your home inspector is honest, is working for you and doesn’t depend on referrals from salesfolk to keep his business alive.
Second, but just as important, the home inspector has to be literate. I’m about to make a lot of the home inspection brethren hate me, but believe me when I tell you: many home inspectors—regardless of licensing or professional affiliation—are illiterate or borderline illiterate. I’m not talking about people who can’t write pretty, I’m talking about people who read and write at a sub-sixth-grade level.
Since I got on the Internet in 1995, I’ve never found a home-inspector site that’s not full of illiterate inspectors struggling mightily to make sense. Many of them have impressive credentials from professional organizations, passed their home-inspector tests, and have state licenses. But a lot of them couldn’t write a letter home to mama, let alone write a useful opinion on the condition of a house. Take, for instance, a guy in Arizona who runs a home-inspector school, and teaches newbie home inspectors how the business works. This man swears that the air in heat-and-air ducts moves at 175 miles per hour. “You can check it with an anemometer!” he says. Well, that’s more wind than Hurricane Katrina. I guarantee, we will have similarly trained-but-licensed home inspectors here in Tennessee.
I don’t mean to be harsh, but folks who can’t read and write are sure to have trouble learning, reasoning and explaining. The new Tennessee home-inspector licensing law has an education requirement that’s much too low: a high-school diploma.
You don’t want a person who got out of high school with a D-minus average—and who couldn’t pass the GED right now—advising you on the biggest purchase of your life. I say engage any potential home inspector in a fairly long email dialog. If he doesn’t make sense, can’t answer questions coherently and didn’t go to college for at least a couple years, don’t hire him. Spend more money—as much as it takes—and hire somebody who’s better.