To own a home is to have personal security. It is an expensive milestone in an individual’s life; one that requires proper attention. It would not be wise to allow an untrained surgeon to operate on a loved one, just as it would not be wise to purchase such an expense without hiring a trained eye to vet the property for safety. Education is key when hiring a home inspector, "nearly three in four homeowners surveyed (70 percent) assume all home inspectors must be certified and licensed, when in fact, not all are," (Quinn). When a homeowner does not hire a certified inspector, he/she may be unaware that even the smallest of indicators can signal a much more serious long-term problem. Shockingly, eighteen out of fifty states do not have any regulations that require home inspectors to be certified and/or trained (Requirements). Qualifications and standards for building inspection need to be established and enforced consistently from state to state in order to ensure the safety of the structure. Ethical hiring practices should be maintained by two central home inspection organizations, the InterNACHI (International Association of Certified Home Inspectors) and ASHI (American Society of Home Inspectors) so that potential homeowners have a database of trustworthy professionals who they can hire to perform proper inspections and follow protocols. To improve the safety of residential and commercial buildings, the InterNACHI and ASHI, as well as construction firms, should establish standards and protocols that are legally enforced by states and companies.
There are standards and principles for all inspectors that should be followed, no matter the state or the project. Many people expect more out of an inspection than what actually occurs, Rick Belliveau, owner of Highland Home Inspections in Highland, MD, said “we’re limited in what we can actually see but a lot of times people don’t like it.” Clients need to be aware that inspectors have certain limitations as to what they can and cannot do in order to avoid confusion and dissatisfaction. Inspectors cannot discern hidden defects, determine the market value of a property, determine insurability of a property, or inspect any object not permanently placed yet they seem to continue to collect complaints about these issues (InterNACHI, 2013). This does not mean that these topics are irrelevant, it just means that inspectors are not under the jurisdiction to work in these areas.
As members of InterNACHI, inspectors have a responsibility to the public, to continue education, and to InterNACHI, and the field itself, as stated in the InterNACHI Code of Ethics. Members are expected not to discriminate against clients for any reason, do anything without the client’s permission, or damage people or property through his/her practices (InterNACHI, n. d.). Members must pass the InterNACHI Online Inspector Exam every three years and follow the other InterNACHI education regulations listed on their website. Inspectors should try to improve the industry and organization in any way possible and spread the benefits of InterNACHI to other inspectors who may not be certified in any way. The best way for uncertified inspectors to know how to receive certification and how it can be beneficial, is to hear it from the certified inspectors themselves, therefore InterNACHI inspectors are left with the responsibility to expand and improve the field.
Although each state is in charge of its building codes, most states use the same basic ideas, standards, and procedures. “Several standards are devoted to the measurement, classification, and grading of wood properties for structural applications, as well as virtually all other building materials, including steel, concrete and masonry” (Gromicko). Having a set of standards that inspectors follow is a solid foundation, but not all inspectors are InterNACHI members, so these standards need to be spread across the nation. Clients also need to know what inspectors are there to do and what they are not there to do.
When asked about the drawbacks of living in a nonregulated state Frank Hopton, a Rhode Island inspector, said “there’s no requirements other than they form a company, get a flashlight, put a pencil behind their ear, and they’re a home inspector. And that doesn’t reflect very well on the industry as a whole,” (F. Hopton, personal communication, 18 March 2017). Having different regulations in each state can significantly affect the quality of inspectors and the inspections they complete. There are five common types of regulations set by states: pre-licensing, experience, continued education, exams, and renewal cycles.
Pre-licensing requirements are those of which inspectors must fulfill before becoming licensed as an inspector. This requirement can be used in various ways for each state and may include classroom education, fieldwork/observation, or a combination of the two. Of the 32 states with regulations, eight do not have any form of pre-licensing standards. Experience requirements usually involved a certain number of inspections that must be completed, supervised, and/or approved. Nine of the 32 states with requirements do not have field work or experience standards (State). 25 states require their inspectors to continue education throughout their career, this education can be found through the InterNACHI, ASHI, and sometimes the states themselves in the forms of courses, tests, articles, and other resources. The National Home Inspector Exam is one of the various tests offered and is usually the test that inspectors must pass in order to receive a state license. After obtaining a license, inspectors must work to renew his/her license periodically in a cycle determined by each state. 62.5% of regulated states have two year license renewal cycles, 25% of regulated states have one year renewal cycles, 6.25% of regulated states have biannual renewal cycles, and 6.25% of regulated states do not have renewal cycles (Requirements).
Though the majority of states have requirements and regulations, eighteen states do not have any requirements for home inspectors. These states include California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Rhode Island, Utah, and Wyoming. California specifically does not have requirements due to political reasons yet real estate agents tell their clients they are receiving licensed inspectors (Weintraub). Mr. Frank Hopton, an inspector based in Rhode Island, said “Most clients don’t realize that there’s no licensing. If it comes up most of the time people are surprised that there is not licensing…” Many citizens of these states are not even aware of the fact that there are no standards and are paying uneducated people to ‘inspect’ their homes to ensure their safety.
Maryland happens to be a reasonably regulated state and has four pre-licensing requirements along with two continuous requirements. A Maryland-based home inspector must obtain a high school diploma, complete 72 hours of classroom education, have $150,000 in general liability insurance, and pass the National Home Inspector Examination before receiving a license. Once licensed, an inspector has to renew their license every two years to stay up to date with modern techniques and practices. A more recent change to Maryland’s standards is that “After October 1, 2014, 30 hours of continuing education [each year] will need to be completed” (State). These differences can change how safe a person is in his/her home in one state compared to how safe it would be considered in another state. This is also unfair to inspectors in strict states who work hard to earn their job; whereas, others can just start right away.
Inspectors can easily detect and repair or prevent house defects that can otherwise cause numerous problems. Dry rot for example, is one of the most commonly found defects in a house and is best known for its capability to destroy timber in buildings. Balconies all over the country have broken and harmed properties as well as people due to dry rot that was not treated. It is important to identify and treat dry rot as soon and as efficiently as possible and some indications of it include a musty odor, wide pores on the surfaces, shrunken, darkened, and cracked wood, and rusty red colored spots (Dry). Wood affected by dry rot must be removed and all other wood should be treated with a fungicide. Although an inspector can find this and show it to the clients, a treatment specialist should be brought it to actually dispose of the damaged wood and prevent more rot.
An inspector should always find something wrong with a house, even if it is as simple as an old window that was painted shut which can be easily spotted and repaired by a trained eye. Jeffrey Downes, P.E., the Architectural and Engineering Services Director at Salisbury University, noted “There’s no such thing as a perfect house.” No matter how young the house is or when it was renovated, inspectors should always find some kind of issue that needs to be worked out. A ‘perfect’ house is a sign of an unqualified inspector.
Common defects include facade leaks, window leaks, wood-floor problems, firestopping deficiencies, and ventilation problems (Cohen). Problems in a house can lead to a decreased selling price, lawsuits, and high repair costs. Some problems are no big deal and homeowners can be safe in their home without doing anything about them. Other problems are serious, and without an inspector they will go unnoticed until it’s too late. When hiring an inspector there are certain things to do to ensure the quality of the inspection. Homeowners should be aware of common mistakes made by others when it comes to hiring. Many first-timers do not hire a home inspector because it can be expensive but that can end up hurting them in the long run when they have serious problems (Overfelt). Close to 10 percent of houses bought recently were not inspected, according to Bill Loden, president of ASHI. The average inspection rates range from $200-$400, but most repairs and replacements cost significantly more resulting in a larger expense.
Homeowners should know what goes on during an inspection. For smaller houses inspections take about two hours but larger house can take around four hours depending on how much of the house is inspected and the exact size of the house. A homeowner should attend the inspection in order to see the notes and information that cannot be seen or communicated through paper. Inspection reports can be difficult to read without background knowledge of the terms being used so seeing the issues firsthand can make the report easier to read and the inspection more beneficial overall. When moving between states the homeowner should hire an inspector who knows the codes and regulations for the state where the new house is because the basics are similar but there can be significant differences.
The client should know what to expect when it comes to how long it will take, what is included versus what is excluded, what kind of report will be given, and what kind of certification he/she has, if any (Glink). The inspector, or his/her website, is the best place to get this information and they are usually glad to inform the client. A homeowner should feel safe and trust his/her inspector to do a great job, but he/she should also understand what is going on in case something does happen to go wrong. Having a current and/or future home inspected is important, a house is a huge finance and it should be done by a qualified and certified inspector who knows what he/she is doing in order to assure the safety and security of the house.
When a student is getting ready to go to college he/she may spend months, sometimes years figuring out the best school and best major for him/herself. When someone is getting married he/she spends months and months finding the perfect minister, perfect photographer, and perfect caterer. So when buying a house, one of the largest expenses of a person’s life, he/she should take the time to find a qualified and certified home inspector to ensure their safety and security. InterNACHI and ASHI both work hard to keep their members educated and legitimate, but the real issue comes with those who are not members. Regulations vary from state to state, but many people do not understand the significant difference between having standards for experience and education versus having no standards and allowing anyone with a business license to become an inspector (T. Nascimento, personal communication, 2 February 2017). Inspectors need to realize that all inspections and all aspects of inspection matter and take the time to be precise. The InterNACHI and ASHI are great resources for inspectors to be able to do this and to be able to ensure the safety of residential and commercial structures.