The qualifications necessary to be a home inspector has been discussed many times by me and others on many online forums. These discussions usually revolve (or devolve) around home inspector training, certifications, licenses and even personality. Some of these discussions are designed to differentiate the “toilet flushers” from those that do “real inspecting.” I find that more often than not, the differences between the combatants is minimal. A little research usually shows that their position demonstrates a lack of understanding of what other inspectors around the country are doing–and that the majority seem to be doing pretty much the same thing.
Every inspector thinks they are providing the best inspections, and the best reports; and their opinions appear to be based pretty much on “nothing.” The quality of work performance, for most professions, can be shown to follow a relatively predictable bell curve. There will be a few really bad inspectors at the bottom of the curve, most of the rest of us will be on the hump in the middle, and a few exceptional inspectors will be gleaming at the top. To listen to inspectors, there is almost no bell curve at all, with most everyone at the top. This defies both logic and science.
That is all I want to say about this aspect of inspections for now.
Today, I want to talk about what it “physically” takes to do the job, and perhaps create another set of questions one might consider in determining if one’s choice of a home inspector is the right one.
It used to be, in the early days of home inspections, that if the inspector had a screw driver, a flash light, knew how to flush a toilet and could walk around the home with a heartbeat, they could call themselves a home inspector. Now with the presence of home inspector associations, State licensing, a huge increase in the professional education of home inspectors, coupled with increased consumer expectations, the inspector must be better trained, produce better reports, perform longer inspections and have more tools in his bag of tricks.
So here are a few questions that one could perhaps consider as to whether your prospective home inspector is up to the “physical” demands of the job.
#1. Can the inspector crawl through an opening 12″ by 24?” Sometimes we must actually get through openings even smaller than this, but given that 24″ wide is the minimum width of a crawl space opening and 12″ is the minimum depth required under wood beams–this seems like an unreasonable 😀 “minimum” size that an inspector should be able to get through without too much trouble. If they cannot–how much information are they missing or deferring until proper access can be made–or until someone else can inspect the area?
#2. Can the inspector climb three sets of stairs with a full tool belt at least four times during the course of the inspection–with one of the trips to include a ladder for getting into the attic? Resting between trips should consist of performing the normal functions of inspecting whatever is necessary between trips. Sitting on the top step and resting in a pool of sweat and tears may be an indication of a problem.
#3. Is the inspector too afraid of spiders, rats, snakes or other common inhabitants of crawl spaces, to adequately inspect the space? I am not saying anything against having a “healthy respect” for these inhabitants who’s home we have entered uninvited.
#4. Ditto #3 for Attics.
#5. Can the inspector suppress claustrophobia long enough to crawl down a narrow tunnel, 18” high or less, between ductwork and the foundation, for a minimum of 20′ and then back their way out because there is not room to turn around? Or will they leave the inspection wondering what was at the end of that tunnel?
#6. Does the inspector have a good sense of balance? If not, they may minimize the importance of meandering through elaborate roof structures to check out that b-vent, chimney or bird nest at the far end of the attic.
#7. Is the inspector afraid of heights? Traversing roofs, when safe, should be considered part of the job–being afraid of heights may limit an inspector’s ability to give adequate information about the roof. Every inspector must deal with his or her own limitations and comfort level as well as the types of roofing materials and how steep the roof is. Deferring the roof to a roofing contractor that may have a vested interest in finding something wrong may also not be providing our client with the best possible service.
#8. Can the inspector haul a 50-70 pound extension ladder all around the exterior of the home? If not–they again may provide even less information about that roof they had deemed too unsafe to walk on or were too afraid to walk on that we discussed in #7.
Some inspectors, that are not able to do some of these physical aspects of the inspection, may limit their inspections to homes where they don’t have to go in crawl spaces, on high roofs etc.
In general, I find the majority of successful home inspectors to be a fairly fit bunch, that know their limitations, do all they can to be as useful as possible, and that know how to take care of themselves–but if your inspector is not, or you are thinking of becoming an inspector, this may be a good list to think about.
So while this may be a pretty accurate list of necessary physical attributes, it does not even touch on some of the other things necessary to be a good home inspector such as having good people skills, good typing skills, good computer skills, being internet savvy, and being willing to work nights and weekends.
Lastly, did I mention, basically recognizing that you do not have a life until the report goes out out the door?
By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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