Most of us that have been in the real estate industry for any period of time have witnessed a shift in what it looks like to be a home inspector. While I was not a home inspector 35 years ago, I know some that were.
35 years ago there were no fancy report writing systems and no digital photographs to document what was found during an inspection. There certainly was no licensing of home inspectors--and professional associations like ASHI to promote and guide home inspectors were just getting underway. While these Associations played a role in attempting to bring order to the chaos, membership was voluntary.
In the early days, it is my understanding these inspections were not even called “home inspections,” but were instead referred to as “structural inspections.” Because of this the first inspectors were actually structural engineers and inspections were quite limited in scope. Some of the older agents I have worked with still refer to what I do as a “structural inspection.”
Typically the inspector walked around with a flashlight and a clipboard and handed the client a handwritten, check-list, type report of concerns—typically a few pages long. The key thing to note about these inspections is that they were entirely related to the purchase of the home and almost entirely controlled by the real estate agent.
Over time however all of this has shifted.
The role of the home inspector is no longer merely tied to the purchase of the home. People even hire an inspector to take a look at the home before it is put on the market. People also consult with home inspectors on issues they are having with their homes unrelated to sales and purchases of homes.
Forensic inspections have become common place.
Perhaps the most important difference is that people are finding inspectors without any input at all from their agents when they are buying a home. Some agencies are now required to give lists of inspectors to choose from instead of recommending specific ones.
The internet has been a huge factor in this development. More and more people are doing their homework and finding inspectors online and they have a much higher expectation of the kinds of information that home inspectors can provide. As a result, reports have ballooned to include all kinds of useful information that the client might be interested in about the house--including information about how to take care of the house that is very specific to that house.
Reports are no longer merely a list of defects, although those are obviously included.
While home inspectors are still “generalists,” we are generally expected to know more and understand more about what we are looking at. We no longer just have flashlights and clipboards. We have moisture meters, gas detectors, thermal imaging cameras, electrical testing equipment and many other tools. We now have required training, licensing and continuing education.
We exist whether there is a real estate transaction involved or not.
These newer differences are not always embraced, acknowledged or even wanted by some real estate agents—or even some home inspectors. This has resulted in arguments about going beyond the Standards of Practice, creating two camps of inspectors. One camp likes to think of the Standards of Practice as being the "maximum" we are allowed to do while others see them as the "minimum" we do.
Which camp an inspector finds themselves in has more to do with business model than anything else.
Which approach an agent prefers also has to do with business model.
The educated consumer almost always wants the approach that is going to garner them the most information.
I routinely hear agents talk about inspectors going well beyond what the Real Estate Agent needs in order to assist with the real estate transaction. These agents just are not on board with the consumer expecting much more from us than merely what it takes to make the deal happen.
The consumer is hiring us to do both jobs in a sense. We are our own profession and no longer merely something that exists to help with the real estate transaction. That part is easy; our clients hire us for much more.
I expect that this distinction will only become more pronounced as time goes by.
Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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WA State, Home Inspector Advisory Licensing Board