The lowdown on home inspections 

It's funny: Since I quit the home inspection business, my phone's been ringing and my email box has been filling faster than a walleyed beer-bonger on spring break — that is, faster than it did when I was doing home inspections full time. It reminds me of the scene in Miss Firecracker, when Tim Robbins' character, Delmount Williams, a government worker assigned to picking up road kill, refused to cut up and haul away a horse carcass. All the while, Delmount's co-road-kill-picker yells from the cab of his government truck: "You cain't quit! You cain't quit!"

And as he yells, Delmount just walks away.

When I started my little home inspection business in the mid-'80s, my work was simple, easy and satisfying. All I had to do was carry my tool bag out to my truck, drive to the house I was hired to inspect and tell my customers, the prospective homebuyers, what was good and bad about the house they wanted to buy. Of course, there were days when a pesky real estate salesperson would chase me around the house and tell me that I'd better give a good report on the house or I'd never work in this town again. I ignored those people, and ignoring them served me well. Lucky for me, a lot of Helter Shelter readers made end runs around the eager salesfolk, and hired me directly.

Over a 20-year run, I got only a handful of frivolous complaints. For instance, there was the guy who complained about a terrible odor in his crawl space. I told him it was the odor of dead bugs, specifically humpback crickets. He asked me what he could do to get rid of the odor. So I told him to take a tablespoon into the crawl space, dig hundreds of tiny bug graves, and bury each carcass.

Truth be told, every home inspector wakes up in the morning with a conflict of interest. He can help the salesperson sell the house by overlooking defects, or, he can tell his customers the dead-honest truth, the straight dope. More often than not, bad news from the home inspector means that home inspector won't be getting any calls from the salesperson. The salesperson will just find a more pliant home inspector.

Last time I checked, more than two-thirds of home inspections were arranged by a real estate salesperson. There's nothing wrong with that, if the salesperson would rather stick forks in her eyes rather than mislead a prospective buyer. Such salespeople exist, but they're as rare as ivory-billed woodpeckers.

Just so y'all will know: These days, it's almost impossible to find an honest, educated and skilled home inspector. That's because the fine folks in the Tennessee legislature are not your friends. A few years back, the legislature — and maybe some lobbyists — decided that home inspectors must buy several thousand dollars' worth of errors-and-omissions insurance, which protects salespeople more than it protects home inspectors or homebuyers.

Now home inspectors have to take continuing education courses. That sounds like a good idea, but it's pretty much a joke. I don't mean to be harsh, but after reading dozens, if not hundreds, of home inspection reports, I can tell you that most are written at or below the eighth-grade level. Believe me when I tell you: I've taken the continuing-education courses because I had to, and I say an average middle-school kid should pass them easily. Problem is, it costs about $700 to get this weak education.

Lately, I've been urging erstwhile customers and naïve homebuyers to get their homeownerly information from, the Journal of Light Construction ( and Taunton Books ( And there are always how-to books in the big box stores. These books will educate you more than the average — or even somewhat-above-average — home inspector.

And just for fun, here's a dirty little secret of home inspecting these days. Many, if not most, home inspectors don't (or can't) write their own reports. They rely on canned boilerplate, purchased from a faraway individual or company. The recommendations usually read something like this: "Deterioration at eaves. Qualified carpenter to replace." The person who wrote that never saw the house.

I know this because a decade or so ago, I rewrote 10,000 boilerplate comments for a large home inspection enterprise that will remain nameless. Why did they need me to write this stuff? Well, because they couldn't find anybody else among the 10,000 or so home inspectors in the U.S. and Canada who could or would do it.

Hint: If you need to know stuff about your house, hire an individual with building skills and knowledge, and at least a junior college education.

And make sure that he — or she — has been in business for at least 10 years.


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