Seattle Home Inspector's Blog


What it means to be a home inspector

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

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Seattle Home Inspector


The Human Rights Campaign   QR code for Charles Buell Inspections Inc


WA State, Home Inspector Advisory Licensing Board

Comment balloon 41 commentsCharles Buell • March 13 2015 08:13AM


Good stuff Charles! I suspect that back in the day the guy with the clipboard didn't spend 5 hours of his time on one inspection either. Check, check, check... there you go Sir!

Posted by Fred Hernden, CMI, Albuquerque area Master Inspector (Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area) about 4 years ago

Charles, So glad to see this post is Featured.  I do not provide a list of three. I know the risk of not doing so. However, I know who I can trust and they do great inspections. 

Posted by Kathleen Daniels, San Jose Homes for Sale-Probate & Trust Specialist (KD Realty - 408.972.1822) about 4 years ago

Fred, thanks---I should have added something about "time"---how true that is

Kathleen, I think a lot of agents are like you---even the ones that give lists

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 4 years ago

Charles: Thanks for your thoughts. They are always insightful and appreciated!

Posted by Paul McFadden, Pest Control, Seattle, WA. (Paratex) about 4 years ago

Charles, a home inspection is vital to a transaction, therefore it follows, in my mind anyway, that it must be done by a good inspector. And I agree with prelisting inspections, and I love the idea that someone can call in an inspector to solve all sorts of problems without a real estate transaction.

I have a few good men... 

Posted by Andrea Swiedler, Realtor, Southern Litchfield County CT (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties) about 4 years ago

This is a fine tribute to professional home inspectors who do the thankless job of pointing out the necessary problems. This also points out the value added if needed. Charles Buell  

Posted by Paul S. Henderson, REALTOR®, CRS, Tacoma Washington Agent/Broker & Market Authority! (RE/MAX Northwest.) about 4 years ago

 Good read Charlie! When I purchased my first home the inspector walked around the house with the agent and both (more or less) chatted for about 20 minutes on what a nice place this was (for its age) and the extent of my input was, "Okay...". A week or so after closing we found the furnace wasn't giving us any heat. There was a hole in the gas furnace burn chamber the size of a canaloupe. Fortunately, it didn't blow up! But we did have to install a new furnace. :O) Then when we sold it the rules had changed among many things we had to have the old underground oil tank removed and a new roof.  

Posted by Rene Fabre, Marketing in the Digital Age (First American Title) about 4 years ago

Charles,  Although you mentioned educating the home buyer, you should also consider the number of agents you have instructed.  I have learned an enormous amount of information about homes from having followed the inspectors I have used around the homes my buyers purchased.  I like to think this has helped me to help my sellers and buyers to understand the reports they read and approve!!!

Posted by Marge Draper, REALTOR, Keller Williams Realty, Menlo Park CA (Keller Williams Realty Palo Alto) about 4 years ago

Hi Charles - I remember the old days, but not 35 years ago - a lot of that stuff was standard when I got into the business 21 years ago, and some inspectors around here still use those old printed sheets. You're right about approach - we also want our clients to have as much information as possible, because our business model is happy, satisfied clients, not closed transactions.

Posted by Dick Greenberg, Northern Colorado Residential Real Estate (New Paradigm Partners LLC) about 4 years ago

Hi Charles Buell the role of the home inspector has evolved and those who have not kept up to speed are being left in the dust.... sounds similar to the real estate agent's role in 2015...

Posted by Barbara Todaro, Marketing Agent for The Todaro Team (RE/MAX Executive Realty ) about 4 years ago

Paul, thanks---and nice to see you!

Andrea, I am sure you do

Paul, thanks for the kind words and thanks for the reblog!

Rene, I sure hate horror stories like that---but I know there is no shortage of them

Marge thanks, that is one of the many cool things that AR has helped create

Dick, it is hard to imagine in this day and age that the old NCR copy inspection reports would still have a market

Barbara, that is so true.  They sit and wonder why they are not getting the work they used to get

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 4 years ago

A good post.  You are correct in that the industry has changed and so have the home inspectors.

Posted by Joan Whitebook, Consumer Focused Real Estate Services (BHG The Masiello Group) about 4 years ago

Charles Buell - so true! I use inspector for many reasons - one of them is pre-listing home inspection. 

And you are right - the job of inspector is not just find the defects, it's lot more than that.

I tell my buyers to be with home inspector all the time at inspection. They give a 'blue print' of the home and buyer will never get another opportunity to know their home so much in detail - ever.

Posted by Praful Thakkar, Andover, MA: Andover Luxury Homes For Sale (LAER Realty Partners) about 4 years ago

Charles - It is interesting to see how the progression has happened for inspections, and as you say more and more buyers are choosing their own inspectors without input from agents.

Posted by Christine Donovan, Broker/Attorney 714-319-9751 DRE01267479 - Costa M (Donovan Blatt Realty) about 4 years ago

How interesting to hear how the industry has evolved.  I had no idea.  Oh, and I love your new profile picture.

Posted by Debbie Gartner, The Flooring Girl & Blog Stylist -Dynamo Marketers (The Flooring Girl) about 4 years ago

We can only hope and ourselves try to continue the trend to advance the industry. 

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) about 4 years ago

I used to do walk-throughs consisting of room by room, floor to ceiling, wall to wall...inside and outside. Worked for me but lots of work. Now, many of the pros not only have software and laptops/ipads, but can print it out before they leave the premises...Amazing tech changes if you live long enough

Posted by Richie Alan Naggar, agent & author (people first...then business Ran Right Realty ) about 4 years ago

Joan, most of them anyway :)

Praful, glad to hear that---it is a slowly moving thing

Christine, it is kind of cool to be part of the changes

Debbie, thanks

Jim, it seems painful at times :)

Richie, so many more options for many different business models.  For myself I am no fan of onsite reports however.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 4 years ago

I agree there are lots of tools for inspectors. Lots of classes, licenses and schools. Most are terrific but still run across some that just don't have a clue..

Posted by Bill Reddington, Destin Florida Real Estate (Re/max Southern Realty) about 4 years ago

 Good morning Charles. I do have to agree with you that today, reports both verbal and  written must be done with extreme care.

Posted by TeamCHI - Complete Home Inspections, Inc., Home Inspectons - Nashville, TN area - 615.661.029 (Complete Home Inspections, Inc.) about 4 years ago

This is great information for prospective home buyers. All should opt for a professional home inspection. I will schedule a re-blog.

Posted by Roy Kelley (Realty Group Referrals) about 4 years ago

Bill, just like agents, there are lots of home inspectors that need more than a few more classes

Michael, we must do the best we can

Roy, thanks for the reblog

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 4 years ago

Charles, thanks for your post

Posted by Ron Aguilar, Mortgage & Real Estate Advisor since 1995 (Continental Mortgage) about 4 years ago

Charles, thanks for your knowledge. I am always happy when a seller is welling to do a pre listing inspection.

Posted by Donna & Larry Johnson, Chester & Delaware County (Keller Williams Real Estate) about 4 years ago

Home inspections didn't come to our small community until about 15 years ago, and those first inspectors were pretty inept. I'll never forget a buyer's fury when she learned that her new home didn't even have an attic fan - after the inspector had said that it was working. He also "missed" a problem with the plumbing, so the agents got to pay to repair it.

I'm so glad things have changed! 

Posted by Marte Cliff, Your real estate writer (Marte Cliff Copywriting) about 4 years ago

Great information! I attend all of my buyers inspections - I find them very interesting and informative. I also expect my buyers to be in attendance as well and will only refer inspectors that prefer to have us there.

Posted by The Julie Morales Team, Real Estate Questions? Call (832) 367-3412 (RE/MAX Cinco Ranch) about 4 years ago

Ron, you are welcome

Donna and Larrry, there are lots of instances where I think the seller can benefit from pre-listing inspections

Marte, there are lots of stories like that I am afraid

Julie, I agree---I am in the camp where I want the client there the whole time and I want the agent around as well.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 4 years ago

I think that over the years we have all become more technical and our abilities no longer generalized. Handshakes and Hugs have become sophisticated contracts and legal battles.. great article today Charles!

Posted by Doyle Lee Austin Davison Iv, 28+ years serving Investors/Banks/Buyers/sellers (Surf City Realty 714-968-6767) about 4 years ago

Interesting perspective.  I am sure the legal implications of what you do have grown and the need for more disclosure.  I rarely have a client pick their own Home Inspector, but generally I would not mind if they did.  

Posted by Gene Riemenschneider, Turning Houses into Homes (Home Point Real Estate) about 4 years ago

Great post.  Yes i agree those who do not keep up with the modern trends will not gain the client''s trust.

Posted by Maya Garg, Moving you Forward.... Buyers, Sellers, Investors (Royal Lepage Signature Realty,Mississauga, Ontario) about 4 years ago

Charles-prior to about 1984, there were no"property inspectors" or structural inspections in Silicon Valley.  I spent nearly a day calling dozens of contractors listed in the yellow pages asking if they would inspect a 100+ year old home I sold on Hobson St., near downtown San Jose.  I knew I was in over my head, but no contractors would inspect it.

They came into existence down here about 1985-86 when a highly publicized non-disclosure lawsuit in the Oakland or Berkeley hillside was being fought. 

My property inspector thinks that true story is funny and he has repeated it to his ASHI buddies.  Everything is inspected now, sometimes by two property inspectors.

Posted by Lloyd Binen, Silicon Valley Realtor since 1976; 408-373-4411 (Certified Realty Services) about 4 years ago

Love it when I can get a seller to do a pre-listing inspection. Most often they want to get more bang for their buck. It has proven positive. If the home is vacant, I'm not sticking around for a 2-3 hour inspection unless the buyer insists. If the home is occupied and the buyer will be in attendance, then I will stay through the whole inspection. Too many buyers like to "lift" objects like a 5 finger discount in a retail store. Sorry but it does happen. I have nothing but respect for the "structural inspector" which i have often called them myself. Just thought it sounded more correct when inspecting a commercial property.  Really have to like your career when crawling under a "structure" in 90+degree heat.

Posted by Theresa Akin (CORPUS CHRISTI REALTY GROUP) about 4 years ago

There are so many pros and cons to the home inspector.  Our small town has so many older homes and none are perfect.  I find young people want perfect.  It is good for them to go with the home inspector to find out what would or could be issues.  Most of the young people want new and guess what, they are not always perfect.  I encourge an inspection of them also. 

Posted by Coletta Ray, Clovis New Mexico Realtor working for you. (Pioneer Realty) about 4 years ago

Home inspections did not exist when I purchased my first three homes.  I think that qualifies me as very mature!  I hope inspections will be used by homeowners as an annual check-up for their home, so that minor issues can be identified and addressed before they become major issues.

Posted by Sharon Parisi, Dallas Homes (United Real Estate Dallas ) about 4 years ago

I am a real estate Broker in California. Unfortunately, our inspectors are NOT LICENSED. Many of the inspectors belong to ASHI or CREIA, but there are still many who are operating out of the dark ages. I firmly believe ALL HOME INSPECTORS should be required to be licensed, and their licenses should be renewed every four years as we are required to do. I recently had a sale blow up because of an inept inspector and agent who was so bad that his clients kept calling me and my sellers directly, not wanting to deal with their own agent. I also stopped using an inspector because he went overboard and reported things that turned out not to be true, costing my sellers money for repairs that were really not in need of repairs. Although there are many good inspectors, there are still many that should not be in the business and would most likely never be able to get licensed, if licenses were required in California.

Posted by Nancy Hankin about 4 years ago

Unfortunately, Nancy, #35 is correct, isn't she, about licensed home inspectors? The solution is to have a universal check list of items for inspections so that whoever is performing the inspection performs their work from a universal check list so anyone can monitor the performance of the inspector, similar to getting a second opinion.

I don't know of any state licensed home inspectors in California or any mandatory or required training or continuing education for inspectors, therefore, I would appreciate this information so real estate agents like me can refer them to our clients. 

Posted by Kimo Jarrett, Pro Lifestyle Solutions (WikiWiki Realty) about 4 years ago

Doyle, yes---and I think the handshakes are still very important :)

Gene, I see problems either way sometimes

Maya, isn't that the truth!

Lloyd, I think multiple inspections by multiple inspectors is a good way to get all the best information possible

Theresa, sometimes I have agents hanging around for 5 and 6 hours.  Here they are required to stay.

Coletta, I think that young people that want perfect in any home, but especially older homes, are misinformed, inadequately informed.  Time for a wake up call I would guess :)

Sharon, absolutely.  I am constantly amazed at the things homeowners are totally unaware of

Nancy, licensing is a part of the puzzle to improving inspectors but generally the requirments do not go far enough.  All it does is level the entry level playing field.

Kimo, I am afraid that a universal checklist would either be so long that it would be cumbersome or too short to be meaningless.  Along with licensing there needs to be better beginning education, mentoring, peer review and continuing education.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 4 years ago

An excellent summary of it all Charlie.  I agree - the SOP, for me, is something to work from, not up to, and that over time this will all change.

What did you do to the Shadow?  Did he fade away in the dark?

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 4 years ago

Jay, as always I am a mere shadow of my former self

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 4 years ago

I remember getting a hand written list of home inspection defects on a page from a yellow legal pad.  

I also remember a home inspector who simply "walked through the house" and said "Looks good to me".

Things are quite different now and thank goodness.  I'm no longer likely to sell a home without a home inspection.

Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley,, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) about 4 years ago

Charlie, Perfect post. More and more people not only want a home inspection but they want to learn about the home. Jay Markanich stated it perfectly SOP's are the starting point not end point.

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) almost 4 years ago