The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.
Tessa Murry: Personally, I feel like I am always learning. I feel that way. I think a lot of inspectors in our team feel that way too, and that’s just part of the profession, you’re always learning. But if I wouldn’t have had the training that I had through Structure Tech, there’s no way I would have been ready to just go out there and start inspecting. I had experience with construction, residential construction before this, I have a college degree in residential building science. I worked in the field for five plus years doing building performance and building science diagnostic testing and problem solving, and I still, I’ll tell you what, I was humbled by my training experience at Structure Tech.
Bill Oelrich: Welcome to Structure Talk everybody. On today’s episode we’re gonna talk about home inspector training, licensing, all the things it takes to become a professional in this business, in the state of Minnesota. Reuben, what can you tell me about getting into this business, and what’s necessary?
Reuben Saltzman: I can tell you, there is absolutely no consistency with this profession Bill. There is stuff that is just all over the board. And man, I wish that would change, and I wish it would get better.
BO: So is that unique to us in our area or is that across the country?
RS: It’s that way in a lot of the country. Yes, somewhere around two-thirds to three quarters of the states now have licensing and there’s kind of a straightforward path to what it takes to become a home inspector. But here in Minnesota there’s absolutely nothing. We have no licensing, no regulation, no certification, no nothing. Anybody can go out and just call themself a home inspector today and that’s it.
BO: I’ve heard people grumble about that, but then I’ve also heard the opposite side, it’s like, “Well, does licensing actually make you more qualified to be in this business?” Do you have thoughts on that?
RS: I do, and I’m sharing thoughts that I’ve heard from a lot of home inspectors in licensed states. I’ve talked to a lot of people throughout the country and one of the most common things I hear is that licensing comes and all of a sudden, whereas you used to have, say, a thousand practicing home inspectors, licensing comes and all of a sudden you’ve got 2000 home inspectors, and it’s like, “What just happened?” Well, they have a weak licensing law, and it becomes a well-publicized portal through which anybody can just jump through to become a home inspector, and then anybody who fits the grandfathering clause says, “Well I’m gonna get my home inspector license today, while it’s real easy ’cause I might do this sometime in the future.” And then all of a sudden you’ve got all these people who are perceived to be equally qualified home inspectors. So I think it’s all about how the licensing law is written, whether it makes sense to have it or not, and my preference would be less of that. I mean I know it sounds like I’m complaining about how anybody can do it, but at the same time, I don’t know that it necessarily makes home inspectors better. You think about contractors like, “Alright, you need to be licensed to be a contractor, does that mean you’re not gonna have a bad contractor?” No way.
BO: So Tessa you’ve been doing this for over three years now. At what point did you feel well-qualified? Do you think you could have just taken a test and felt confident going into somebody else’s house and explaining it to a client?
TM: No way. I mean, personally, I feel like I am always learning, I feel that way. I think a lot of inspectors, in our team feel that way too, and that’s just part of the profession, you’re always learning. But if I wouldn’t have had the training that I had through Structure Tech, there’s no way I would have been ready to just go out there and start inspecting.
BO: And you had a tremendous base of knowledge that you’re working forward.
TM: Yeah, I had experience with construction, residential construction before this. I have a college degree in residential building science. I worked in the field for five plus years doing building performance and building science diagnostic testing and problem solving, and I still, I tell you what, I was humbled by my training experience at Structure Tech.
BO: And I think one of the things that if you ask anybody on our team the best part about being at Structure Tech and the training you get is the team that backs you up after the fact.
TM: Yeah, yeah.
BO: We have literally hundreds years of experience combined, to answer questions about houses. And I just don’t know how somebody hangs out a shingle calls himself an inspector, whether they’re licensed or not and has the confidence to go do this. It seems fraught potentially.
RS: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. There’s home inspection schools out there, and I’m not knocking the schools when I say this, but you’re not gonna be prepared to be a home inspector when you’re done with the home inspection school. You’re gonna go to classes for maybe a week, maybe two weeks, and you’ll get schools where they say it’s like a 160-hour class, 120-hour class, whatever, usually it’s not that much classroom time. It’s half of that is classroom time, the other half is you’re supposed to study all this content at home, on your own.
RS: And even then, it’s crazy to think that that’s gonna prepare you to be a home inspector.
TM: Right, reading something in a book once versus being able to be in the field and identify and just understand everything, is completely different. One of the things we did at Structure Tech for the trainings, is like six months of shadowing home inspectors. Every day, going out, doing an inspection or two. And I swear every time you learn something new that you’re doing that.
BO: I don’t wanna give the impression that this home inspection industry is just a wild wild west out there. And that there is no standards anywhere. There are professional organizations in this business. Reuben, can you tell me about them?
RS: Well, the oldest one out there, the one that came up with the original standard of practice for home inspections is ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors. They were founded over 40 years ago, and they developed standards of practice, a Code of Ethics for home inspectors. That’s the organization that everybody here at Structure Tech is a member of. That’s a requirement for all of our inspectors, before you go out inspecting you need to join ASHI and you need to pass the exam that ASHI uses. At ASHI we use what’s called the national home inspector exam, which is administered by the…
RS: Thank you. Examination board of…
TM: Professional home inspectors.
RS: Yes, yes.
TM: Together, we know that answer.
BO: And the reason you know that answer is because you guys are leaders in this area. You are leaders in training, you’re setting the standards.
RS: We try. I sat in on a session helping to write the exam. Tessa you’ve been there twice now, helping to write those, right?
TM: Mm-hmm. Yeah, edit questions, source questions.
RS: Yeah, ’cause you are nationally recognized.
TM: As are you. [laughter]
RS: So that’s ASHI, it’s a set of standards, they’re not the only home inspection organization out there there. There’s another one that a lot of people joined, it’s called Internachi and they have their own set of standards. And there’s local organizations. There’s one called MISHI, the Minnesota Society of Housing Inspectors but they’re really more focused on education, they don’t so much set up standards of practice for home inspectors. Really the big two are ASHI and Internachi. And it should help to make home inspections a little bit more uniform.
BO: Okay, so early on in the business, when people realized that this was actually a need out there that people wanted to know about what they were buying, they wanted to understand their houses, the ASHI’s of the world, the Internachi’s of the world, they got together, they wrote their standards and they created a common guide for people in this business. Okay.
RS: Yup, exactly.
BO: So licensing really wasn’t a thing until states decided it was a thing.
RS: That’s about it. And if and when, licensing does come, I don’t think it’s really gonna change anything about the way that we do our business here at Structure Tech. It might mean that it’s a little bit more paperwork. For example, radon licensing just came. We had been doing radon tests forever here, in Minnesota, and licensing just came. So now we gotta file a lot of paperwork with the state, then we’ve gotta pay them a chunk out of everything we’re doing, and it’s a lot of time, and we have had to pass that cost on to consumers. Now, we need to charge more money for all of our radon tests, but our radon test didn’t change at all. We’re following our same protocol that we followed before licensing came. So it really hasn’t been a benefit to the consumer, at least for people who are doing it right. Now, for people who are kind of fly-by-night contractors, or radon testers, maybe it’s eliminated some of them, but for the good people who are doing it, licensing shouldn’t change anything.
BO: It shouldn’t, but to the end-consumer it should give more confidence that what they receive is standardized. They should have confidence in those readings and those reports that are coming out, right?
RS: That’s the idea. But like I said, about hiring bad contractors, it certainly doesn’t give any type of guarantee.
RS: I think what it really comes down to is whether you’re in a licensed or an unlicensed area, you really need to look out for who you’re hiring. You need to do research and you need to figure out how that home inspector got their training. The training process to get from day one to a practicing home inspector is really important. If I were gonna be hiring a home inspector, I’d wanna know about that.
BO: There’s a ton of information folks, it’s hard to even explain how much information is accumulated in Reuben’s mind.
RS: Some of it has to do with homes too.
BO: Yeah, yeah, right. Reuben, at what point did you realize you needed to design a training process for Structure Tech?
RS: I’d say it’s probably when I started training to be a home inspector, it was not at all what we’re doing today. My training process was going along with my dad every day, and don’t get me wrong, it was fantastic but it wasn’t nearly as structured as what we’re doing today, 15 years later. Today, oh my goodness, we’ve put together so much documentation and it’s, step one you do this, step two, you do this, it’s very structured. So there’s a lot more that people need to get down. When I went out, man, I don’t think I knew what trainees get in one month of training for us today. And I was inspecting on my own, so it’s pretty crazy how much has changed over the years.
BO: So you came into the business in what year?
RS: I started inspecting on my own in 2004.
BO: How many houses have you been into?
RS: I have no idea.
BO: Okay, if you were to take a guess, how many houses have you personally inspected?
RS: I’d say several thousand. I can’t tell you exactly how many. I mean, I’m also a licensed truth in housing evaluator and with truth in housing, that’s a pre-sale city inspection and those take about an hour to conduct and you can end up going through and doing five, six of those in a day. And we never kept good track of all of our numbers back then, so they all kind of melded together.
BO: Okay, so thousands and thousands.
BO: But this process it’s been defined, it’s been re-defined, it’s been re-re-re-defined, you’ve gone to the drawing board several, several times.
RS: Yeah, yeah, it’s changed a lot over the years and you know, it works really well for us. And just a quick snapshot of what the training process looks like: We have an inspector go around for about 100 inspections, morning and afternoon inspections with everybody on our team. That takes a couple of months. Then they start writing reports, and then they start really writing reports and doing all the talking during inspections, and by the time they’re done, it usually ends up being about 150 inspections they’ve done, and usually it takes about six months or so to get to that point. And we’re talking about six months of long days and a lot of studying on their own at night, on the weekends, any free time they have, there’s so much reading that we give people. And then they need to go out and pass the national home inspector exam.
So if you were to take somebody who hasn’t gone through a rigorous training process like we have at Structure Tech, I don’t know how we’re supposed to get that. There is no program that you can just buy into to get this, you can go to a one-week school, you can do some ride along inspections with other inspectors, and just kind of scratch the surface, but you talk to just about any single operator out there and you ask them what their process was and that’s about what they’re gonna tell you. And they might have a lot of experience if they’ve been doing it for many years and they may have picked stuff up but starting out, man, I’ll tell you, they missed a lot of stuff.
BO: Sure, I imagine, but that’s why these professional organizations are so important too. It’s a place to gather and bounce your questions off your colleagues too, right?
RS: Yeah, yeah, it helps to have our local chapter. We’ve got a local chapter for ASHI it’s the Heartland chapter, we meet together once a month and we ask each other questions, we bounce ideas off each other, we have continuing education. That’s been a really helpful thing here in the Twin Cities.
BO: Okay, Reuben, so with all of this, with no licensing in some states, and licensing in others, how does somebody know they’re hiring a great home inspector?
RS: Well, one thing I’ve always said this, start with looking at a sample home inspector report: Go to the home inspector’s website, and hopefully, they have a sample on there. If they don’t, well, I’ll tell you, I’ve found home inspectors for family members out of state. And if there is no sample report on a home inspector’s website, I wouldn’t even consider them for the inspection. So, I’d look up the sample report, and I’d look to make sure it’s well written. I wanna make sure that I can understand what they’re recommending. I wanna make sure it’s written in plain English, not having a bunch of check boxes saying it’s in marginal condition and then I gotta turn to a key at the beginning of the report, to realize that, “Well, marginal means it needs further evaluation.” I want it to be written in plain English. I want a lot of photos in the report and direct language. If there’s a lot of recommendations for further inspection, I really lose my confidence in this person and I think they don’t know enough to say when something is okay. So number one would be a great sample home inspection report.
BO: Do you have anything else you’re looking for?
RS: Experience is a big one. I want to know how long have they been doing it, and what did it take them to get here? If you have somebody who was an electrician, and a plumber, and a carpenter, they probably know a lot about houses, they know a lot of different trades and I’m pretty happy with that. If they have gone through a company like ours where you have a stringent training process and they’ve spent a half a year, a year learning the profession, I would take that in lieu of working in a whole bunch of different trades. But if you don’t have one of those two, I would question somebody’s training. That would be a yellow flag for me. I’m not saying I wouldn’t hire them, but I’d be very suspicious. So try to figure out what the training process was for somebody. And then I’d say the last one is, what do other people have to say about the home inspector? And that all comes down to online reviews: Looking on Google, Yelp, Angie’s List, Facebook reviews, these are all places that the home inspector has no control over what people say. And one of my favorite things I like looking at negative reviews.
RS: I don’t know how you guys are, but I like looking at one-star reviews and just seeing what’s the worst stuff that people have to say about this company, and how do the company handle it, what did the company say? That tells me a lot about who it is that I’m working with. I like looking at online reviews.
BO: Awesome, awesome, great advice. Clearly, it’s important that anybody in a real estate transaction consider a home inspection, and it doesn’t matter where the house is in its life cycle, it’s super important that you find a qualified home inspection expert to come out and do a thorough evaluation of the real estate you’re considering. Thanks for joining us, we’ll catch you next time.
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