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Andy Wojtowski

PODCAST: James Thomas, executive director of the American Society of Home Inspectors

James Thomas joins the show to talk about all things related to home inspections. The show starts off with James touching on the origins of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), and how he ended up in his current position. The conversation shifts to education and training for home inspectors, and James talks about some recent changes to The ASHI School.

James also talks about increasing diversity amongst home inspectors, as well as the future of home inspections in the next 5-7 years.

TRANSCRIPTION

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.

James Thomas: The American dream at one time was always home ownership, right? We, as home inspectors, are part of that and so that voice can’t be silenced ’cause we wanna help educate those making the biggest decision of their lives and provide a service that is as applicable, if not more, than when ASHI started in 1976.

Bill Oelrich: Welcome, everybody. You’re listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich alongside today, Reuben Saltzman. We are missing one leg of our three-legged stool. Tessa is not able to be with us today. Many, many sad wishes for that. Nevertheless, she’s got some business that came up today and she wasn’t able to join in. But filling in that leg is going to be James Thomas, the Executive Director of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors, has been gracious enough to join us today to talk about professional education and tell all our listeners, ’cause Reuben and I know all about ASHI. But what is ASHI, and what do you do as an executive director at ASHI?

JT: First of all, I just wanna say thank you to both of you for having me on the podcast. It’s an honor. I’ve been listening to you guys since you’ve started. So to actually be a guest on the podcast itself is amazing. I am sad that I’m not gonna have Tessa on this as, obviously, Tessa is the strongest of the three-legged stool as we’re sitting here.

BO: That’s true.

JT: We all agree to that. So we’re going to try to say that I’m going to, by any means, be able to fill in that gap that’s left by Tessa is disservice to anybody who’s listening to this podcast right now or who has been a fan of the podcast. So with those kind of expectation, I’m gonna lower them very quickly. I am no Tessa. I am not gonna be able to get to the building sciences. I am a gentleman who works for the American Society of Home Inspectors, as Bill so graciously said. And the American Society of Home Inspectors was founded in 1976. So we’re coming up on our 45th year of operation, and really, the American Society of Home Inspectors was built out by people who love to serve others. Home inspection was coming into its own at a time where there were a lot of engineers and people who would go and look at a house and they said, “Hey, we need to make this into profession. We need to set some standards. We need to give each other education. We need to network and understand this new world that’s coming.”

JT: People have been buying and selling houses for generations even prior to that, but home inspection came from that. Prior to the professional home inspector that we see today or that started about a generation or two ago, people had someone who would come and just look at the house and probably knock on a door and kick a panel and say, “Hey, this looks like a good buy. It’s a good investment.” But the American Society of Home Inspectors was brought together to allow professionals to kinda define what should be the expectations. With all home inspectors, you’re doing a service to the consumer. When I first started at the American Society of Home Inspectors, it’s surprising to me how many people go into taking the biggest investment of their lives without understanding the true nature of what they are signing up for. People run a used car which will be, for most parts is not usually a six-figure investment, through more hoops and hurdles than some consumers will do with the house.

JT: And the reason that attracted me to American Society of Home Inspectors was that when my wife and myself were buying our first house, which is a house we’re still in, the home inspector was incredible. He was an educator. He kinda took me through and explained to me the different systems of the house. He helped me to understand what I was actually investing in. I loved it because it was its own standalone expert, who’s not tied like everyone else in the real estate transaction, to the outcome of this either sale or the sale not happening. So the American Society of Home Inspectors has been formed to, one, create that education opportunity for inspectors, to define a profession, to also help educate consumers on what they’re actually going to invest in and give them an understanding of that, and set the proper expectations both for consumers and inspectors.

JT: The one thing that ASHI has always done is… It’s the American Society of Home Inspectors. We fondly refer to it as ASHI. ASHI has set the standard. The first home inspection standard that we’ve seen ever written was ASHI. And you will see traces of that either in full form adopted by states that have licensing or parts and adjustments of it. And as always, the American Society of Home Inspectors, even now, as we’ve reached out to by licensing boards, we say yeah, please use our standard. If you can credit us for it, great. But by no means is that a… We’re not gonna make that a barrier to entry to using our standard ’cause it’s been tried and true. Just take it. We’d rather have what we believe to be the sure standard out there. Go ahead and take it in full form and use it, and we have no issues with that at all.

BO: Question we ask ourselves is how much could a bad home inspection cost you?

JT: I think that’s a fantastic question. And if you’ve talked to any home inspector who’s been around for a while, you’ll find out real fast the answers to that. I think that there’s also a part of when you’re buying a home, you’re kind of caught in an emotional tidal wave. We don’t say we’re gonna go buy a house, right? We use that term home. It ties to your heart, right?

BO: Right.

JT: It’s almost like you can… I think somebody once said that you can build a house but only a family can make it a home. You know these little cute little sayings, right? But the truth of it is is that people don’t go looking for a house, they go looking for a home. And so there is so much tied into that, right? The average homebuyer’s looking, if they have a family, what school district am I in? What are property taxes? All of these other factors whereas the home inspector comes in and says, “Alright. Let’s actually talk about this house. Let’s talk about this house. Let’s talk about this HVAC unit. Let’s talk about the roof. Now, let me tell you a little bit about the attic. Let me tell you about the plumbing. Let me tell you about the electrical systems and components of this.” It’s a completely different approach, and it was for myself in the homebuying process. It was eye-opening because all of a sudden, my emotions, which I typically try to pride myself on being a rational logical person but after seeing probably close… My wife will listen to this probably at some point, but not throw her under the bus, after going through 200, 250 houses, I’m exhausted, man.

BO: Are you kidding me?

JT: That’s probably an exaggeration. She’ll kill me for saying that but it was quite a bit. I don’t remember exactly, but I wanna say it was a number of houses. We were in Houston at that time. We were moving up to Chicago land area. And Texas houses and Midwest houses, two completely different worlds. When you’re talking about what you’re actually paying for, where depending on what neighborhood you’re going into, older houses, she’s just like, “So it’s not standard here? Everybody has granite and stainless steel?” and I’m like, “No, that’s not the way the world works, in the Midwest, depending on where you’re going and how new the construction is and things like that,” so we had purchased a home that was probably about 15 or 20 years old at the time before we bought it. We’ve been here for about 15 years now, actually 16 years. But at that time… So we went through a number of houses, we went with the realtor and we went to each of the houses. It’s an exhausting experience, so when we finally were able to put the bid in, and this was also, of course, when real estate values were going through the roof, so I bought it, the bubble.

JT: What was interesting about it is that there’s such intense competition, you’re feeling that like, “Okay, we gotta get this in and is a home inspection necessary?” Absolutely, it’s necessary, but that emotional drive, so it was wonderful to have someone who came in, not emotionally driven in this at all and say hey, here’s exactly what I’m gonna look at. I’m gonna tell you what this is gonna be, and I’m gonna give you some suggestions on what your… I’m not gonna tell you to buy or not buy this house. That’s absolutely up to you. I just want you to have a full understanding of what you’re stepping into, when you say, “Hey, I wanna complete the purchase on this house,” and you know what this is going to hold for you, maybe for the next three to five years in terms of maintenance and repairs and such.” So, it was nice to have a non-emotionally invested person to just come in and look through it and say, “Hey, here’s what it is,” talked to me a little bit at the end of it, but also submitted, gave me a report that I was excited to read and to learn all about the house that I was going to be purchasing, where we were hoping to make it into a home, right? And so, I think that was a huge part of the process for myself.

BO: Cool. How many years have you been involved in ASHI? And let me, before you answer that, let me kinda set this up for people listening. Reuben and James have been working together for the last, what, 18 months or two years or something. You referenced that earlier, James, but Reuben was on the board at ASHI. You’re the Executive Director at ASHI. You came in here a period of time ago. So, where did you come from? And how long ago was that?

JT: Reuben and I, yes, we have worked together for about two years. I started with ASHI about two years ago, and prior to this, I’ve always had a background in business leadership and education. It’s two passions of mine, and it’s gonna be probably one of the strangest pivots you’d ever hear in your life, but prior to joining ASHI, I was tasked the responsibility of opening an audio engineering campus that would do associate degrees in audio engineering and music business. It was an incredible, wonderful experience for me. I was able to bring on a team and a staff and went from basically, just a build-out, to a full campus, with all of the latest audio equipment that you could hope for, but at the same time, give practical opportunities for students to learn. So, we also had a placement program, we had a missions team, we had financial services. It was an incredible opportunity. It’s one of the few times in my life that I could say that I had a team of Grammy nominees and winners report to me. So it was pretty fascinating. It was incredible and I got the opportunity to learn a little bit about the American Society Of Home Inspectors, and I jumped at it, ’cause I got to meet with certain members of the board, and I don’t know if Reuben remembers, but I also got to meet with the full board on the Saturday.

Reuben Saltzman: Oh, I remember. Absolutely.

JT: [chuckle] Yeah, on the Saturday of their full day, and the reason what attracted me to American Society Of Home Inspectors is that, for myself, education is key, and those who are in the top of the field in my previous career were those who challenged themselves, reinvented themselves, learned how to stay relevant quickly. The chair of my music business department was a gentleman named Martin Atkins, who was a Grammy-winning drummer for Nine Inch Nails. It was interesting talking to him because in high school they were one of my bands that I appreciated, so it was interesting talking to him and seeing how he stayed relevant in the industry. And I think that what attracted me to American Society Of Home Inspectors, and just home inspection in general, was that opportunity to help home inspectors stay relevant, to help the profession stay relevant, not just the individual person, but how do we continue to move this consumer advocacy, that’s really what this is, into the ever-changing landscape of real estate transactions and also changing demographics on who’s purchasing home, how do they purchase a home, how do we service our communities as our communities continually change?

JT: The other part that drew to me was that, my father was actually a franchise owner of a Goodyear dealership for a good portion of his career, and I know how difficult it can be when you think you’re the only one doing what you’re doing. And to create a network of people who share similar experiences are learning the same thing, dealing with the same type of both consumers and teams to work with actually gives that opportunity for people to network, and not only serve their communities, but create a community within itself to challenge one another, to continue to grow in your profession, and to set yourself a little bit apart by taking a professional approach in every aspect of what you do, and that’s what drew me to ASHI. I remember standing there with the board of directors and just thinking to myself, “Wow, they can really make a difference here.” There’s advocacy that happens on a national level because I think that it’s time for different aspects of different professions and industries to get a voice when legislators make laws, or they decide things from a, let’s say, from a federal standpoint. They need to hear the stories and understand how it’s going to impact the day-to-day lives of small business owners.

JT: I mean small business owners are the very fabrics of our community. We can say what we want, but the United States, one of the ideas not just for economy, but for community development, have been small business owners. You look to see who partners with the local schools, who are the people who actually give back into the community? It’s the small businesses, and somebody has to stand up and represent them. And so we’ve got that cross-section. We’ve got that cross-section of this wonderful profession, which advocates for consumers and that voice cannot be silenced, ’cause they’re… You can’t take that away. The American dream, at one time, was always home ownership. We as home inspectors are part of that and so that voice can’t be silenced ’cause we wanna help educate those making the biggest decision of their lives, and then also, we wanna ensure that laws that go in place protect the profession, but are also advantageous to those who are trying to help their communities in the best way they can and provide a service that is as applicable, if not more, than when ASHI started in 1976.

RS: I totally agree, James. And that’s always been a big attraction of mine to ASHI. ASHI isn’t the only organization that home inspectors can join and say, “I’m certified through this or that.” But the biggest thing that I appreciate about ASHI is the fact that it’s an organization that’s focused on improving this profession. I feel like ASHI isn’t so much focused on the individual. Maybe you’ll contradict me there, there’s stuff that ASHI does for the individual but the larger purpose is to better the profession. That has been very important to me. That and the fact that I mean when I first started back in ’97, I was answering the phones for my dad and one other guy, and we would get call after call from people who wanted to hire a home inspector, and they said, “Well, I just wanna make sure you’re ASHI certified.” And I’d go, “Well, no. I mean he’s a building official and he’s certified through ICBO.” There was no ICC at the time.

BO: What are you speaking, this language of letters?

RS: It’s certifications for building officials. ICBO is the International Conference of Building Officials. That was like the Midwest version of the building code before they got an international code. I’m putting you all to sleep now. But I’d say, “We’re ICBO certified and blah, blah, blah,” and I’d tell ’em what we got and people would say, “Oh okay, that’s nice. But I’m looking for an ASHI certified home inspector. Thank you very much,” and then they’d call the next person. And that would happen so many times and I was just like, “Dad, let’s do this. We gotta get certified through ASHI.” He’s like, “I’m not doing that. I already got this.” And as soon as I got to be certified and I was a home inspector, that’s the first thing I did, was joining ASHI, ’cause it’s the one place where people seem to know about and they ask for. And then I convinced my dad to do it like a month after I did it.

[chuckle]

RS: And now everybody in our company gets certified through ASHI. So I appreciate what ASHI does for this profession, without a doubt. But I bring that up. I gotta give you a chance to defend that ’cause I’m saying that ASHI doesn’t seem to be quite so focused on the individual inspector. And like you said, I was a member of the board for three years. I did my part to try to convince people that we need to go in that direction a little bit more. We need to have a lot more continuing education available for home inspectors, so a home inspector can go from day one to… Well, I shouldn’t say home inspector. An aspiring inspector can go from day one, I’ve never done this before to I’m ready to go out on my own. Where do I get the training? And I wanna let you comment on that.

JT: So I will say this, being the oldest home inspector association, right Reuben? You do bring up a very valid point that at times it does feel like we’re caretakers for the profession or we try our best to be caretakers for the profession. So that always is going to be underlining as part of our DNA. At the same time, the profession is made up of individual inspectors. So you bring up a very, very valid point. And some of the things that we do try to do, obviously, we’ll talk about… I’ll make education kind of the third one, but some of the things that we try to do is figure out how we can best support them in what stage they are currently in. So one, helping them identify where are you in your career and then kind of figuring out what can we do to help with. So a couple of the initiatives that are there with ASHI are we have the ASHI Advantage Program, which is an insurance program we put together to help anyone from new inspectors, which has built-in discounts, to those who’ve been there for a while, trying to offer a rate for insurance that isn’t out there on the marketplace. It’s only available to ASHI members through a partnership with InspectorPro. We kinda put that there because that affects their day-to-day business. That’s real money, the money that you put out for insurance and depending how large or how small you are, you still have to put that out there. And so that’s a day-to-day kind of savings.

JT: We do have the Find An Inspector tool on our website, which helps draw people, consumers, to perspective ASHI members that are in their area. And the reason why I say, I should say perspective inspectors that they can use, because we can only lead them to, “Hey, here are a couple of people you can call.” It’s really on the inspectors themselves to kind of close that sale. I think you two would agree with me on that. If it’s…

BO: Yeah, oh, for sure.

JT: You can get leads, it’s really dependent on how you want to take the time to nurture that to talk to people, to educate people, and to make sure that you book that business. So we have that opportunity also. We also have, from an education standpoint, Reuben brings up a really good point. We have the ASHI Online Learning Center, which is a online platform which allows… Depending on which state you are, you have to be licensed in certain states, and so in order to continue to uphold your licensing, you need continuing education credits. And so a number of the courses on the ASHI Online Learning Center are licensed by states to be allowed to be used for continuing education credits. We also have the ASHI CEs, which you have to earn in order to stay in good standing with ASHI, and then we also have pre-licensing classes which occur through our pre-licensing school, the ASHI School, which has gone through a complete revamp.

JT: We’ve built out our own curriculum. It was in partnership with Casey & Associates, but it’s wholly owned by the ASHI School. This fiscal year, as everyone’s well aware, COVID-19 has really done a number on in-person type of classes, not just for for ASHI, but I think across the spectrum of no matter what kind of education you’re trying to get into right now, it’s a different time. It’s a unique approach. But we’ve just finished completing that curriculum. We’ve actually had online training for our instructors who are also inspectors. We also have webinars to help them understand what they need to do within the classroom itself. And so, we will be launching that in the next few weeks as classes start to take effect.

JT: Our pre-licensing courses are anywhere from… You can have a 93-hour to 120-hour. We are also in the midst of creating an online live streaming class. I think you can look at COVID-19 as an opportunity. I mean it’s obviously been devastating for different places but I think we at ASHI have tried to look at it in a positive light as what is this opportunity it’s giving us to maybe accelerate some initiatives we had in the pipeline. One of the things that we did and Reuben was instrumental when we did a series of webinars during the downtime of COVID-19. I wanna say we had something like 63 live webinars as part of ASHI, free to all members and people were able to come in, everything from technical to business topics, some renowned speakers and some really engaging webinars.

JT: I think our final count was something like, across the court, we had about 5500 people partake in these webinars in that time, which is not as… That’s nothing to shrug at and so we decided with the pre-licensing education, hey, seeing the success of that and people becoming more comfortable with understanding and taking classes. Virtual online is… We’re in the process of building out a online streaming class that you can take, and how we wanna build that out is we’ll have what we call different modules, and the modules could be anything from HVAC to electrical to plumbing. But the way we’re looking at it is who are the experts that needs those modules? And if we’re gonna be online and you’re no longer tied to a physical location, let’s have the experts in those modules actually teach and teach out that way. The one thing that we look at with ASHI is we can get them some field training, too, either through the chapters that might be in the areas where the students are at, or we can… We have instructors in nine locations. So we can kind of build them to help people in the field, boots-on-the-ground approach of actually getting in a house and getting some hands-on training too ’cause we believe strongly in both those things, right? I mean you’re gonna have competency and your education plus your experience equals competency.

JT: One of the questions that people typically ask is how prepared are you when you get through our 93 or 120-hour course, and this is gonna be a very educator answer, so please bear with me. It’s really gonna depend on the student, and I know that sounds like a cop-out for most people, but it depends on what that person’s background was, how intense they took the classroom training itself, and the opportunity to network and learn. If they’re gonna be hired by a group that is a multi-inspector team like I like to call it, with more than two or three people, if they get into that kind of environment, that might be the best for them, so they can kind of learn and understand it and go through another training regimen, but we call it… These are the foundations. We’re kind of laying the foundations and where they go with it goes will be based on how much they want to continue to invest in themselves and get that hands-on training and that field experience.

JT: The other aspect of it is what’s your background coming into this? We’ve had very successful stories of people from a myriad of backgrounds coming into home inspection. Reuben can attest to this. I think our board has some of the most diverse backgrounds of any group of people I’ve ever seen in one room. It’s pretty remarkable to see how many diverse backgrounds have led into home inspection. What’s interesting now, and Reuben can attest to this, ’cause he’s probably one of those, is we’re now starting to see second-generation home inspectors, whereas when ASHI was founded, that wasn’t a thing. There was nobody who was going into the family business, so the needs and the backgrounds are changing. So if someone like Reuben is coming into this, and even if they were just helping dad out by answering the phones, or helping dad or mom out by being an office… Whatever it was, their experience is still a lot better than someone just coming right off the streets jumping into a classroom.

JT: So we’re starting to see that and it’s interesting because we’re starting to see ASHI members, life-long ASHI members, and it’s nice to see, ’cause you love to see families passionate and doing something together, and we’re starting to see in the ASHI school, the children of long-time ASHI members who are now coming in and learning the tools of the profession. Sometimes dad or mom will come alongside with them just to check out the… Especially when it’s in Des Plaines, where we’re located, Des Plaines, Illinois, they come in and just say hi to us and say hey, he’s going to start the… She wants to learn about this, and so I thought I’d come in just for the first day and hang out like hey, great, come on in. You’ve been a… Now, obviously with COVID-19, things have changed.

[laughter]

BO: Yeah, yeah.

JT: So it’s like please stand six feet away and wear your mask, but even just a few months ago, before the pandemic hit, it was wonderful. We had a couple of families that came in and did that, and we’re starting to see that approach start to change, ’cause now there is a whole group of people who have been… It’s gonna sound silly, but being the son of someone who was in the automotive industry all their lives, they’re kind of raised in it. You hear dad shop talk when he’s talking to one of his employees or one of his co-workers on the phone, even when he’s home, or… And you, even on the drives to whatever practice, I remember my dad had to take a call, because something’s going on at the store, and whether you like it or not, I know how to change tires. I know how to do an oil change. I know how to work some of the machines that used to be in the late ’80s, early ’90s in that world, just from being there.

BO: Osmosis.

JT: Yes, osmosis and on Saturdays, just kind of hanging out. And my dad was a believer in, “Hey, learn everything, dude. Go hang out in the back garage, see what’s going on, talk to the mechanic, talk to the GS,” they were called general service guys. They were the guys who had to load and unload and keep inventory, so you learn everything, and so then when I’m standing in the front and I’m working on what we call the point-of-sales system, I know everything that went into what this person is asking for. So you’re starting to see that, and obviously, a student like that coming to the ASHI school, one is, they had a network helping them reach that to get to school, to get through the education. They also have a network that they can run stuff against, not just the instructors who are fantastic. They’re people who are what we call the ASHI certified inspectors or all of our instructors are ASHI certified inspectors, where they’ve earned that designation through meeting certain criteria, but they also have a network back home. So when they go home, they can talk through some of the stuff that had been difficult because you’re gonna learn why you’re there, but you’re also gonna learn as you process it later, and then having somebody else just to throw ideas against or ask difficult questions too, is fantastic.

JT: So those students are absolutely gonna be more successful, and they’ll probably be ready to go much quicker than someone who’s just jumping in for the first time. And also the truth is with any educational opportunity, there are certain people who are cut out and there’s some that aren’t. And we love to say that everyone can do everything, but it’s not true. The three of us know that. Everyone cannot do everything, otherwise, there wouldn’t be such a diversity of talent and skills. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a passion plus a competency that leads to you being really powerful in your career. It’s not one or the other. And if it isn’t the right fit, I think if you’re in the right network, it can help you figure that out sooner, and maybe there’s something tangential that you can work in, or an industry that’s tangential to this that allows you to take some of the expertise that you learned and do it somewhere else. The other thing that we found is we also have a transition from military program in the ASHI School, so it allows people to use their GI funds towards the schooling that they do in the ASHI School. The military tend to do very well as they transition out into the home inspection, but it also depends on where they land, what business they enter into, and if there’s others to support them in that, but that’s been… We’ve seen a lot of success with those cases also.

BO: Are you guys working with other industries? One of the things we’d love to see in our company would be a lot more women involved in this industry, and frankly, right now, people of color. We’d like to educate everybody in society that there’s a wonderful opportunity to make a really good living in the home inspection industry, so is there anything ASHI is doing at a national level to try to push out a pipeline that… I think you understand what I’m asking.

JT: Yeah, absolutely. That’s a fantastic question. I think it couldn’t be more apt or appropriate in today’s climate, for sure. There is a level of let’s try to incorporate more people into the profession itself because that diversity of perspective will make us stronger. There’s also some communities who home inspectors aren’t serving to the same level that we serve because there is no representation, so there’s nobody speaking in the way that they would understand the impact that a home inspection will have on the whole real estate transaction. So ASHI has brought on to the team… We have Rose Buck who is helping me oversee a lot of our social media right now. Rose is a great ambassador for home inspection in general. She has volunteered with a number of organizations to just try to help women to understand. She’s reached out at the high school level, she’s done some summer camp things and Rose, if I’m misquoting you on this, please correct me, you can always send a happy email to Reuben, but she’s kind of reached out in trying to build those inroads for us as an association.

JT: So we kind of want to take it at grassroots level like that, where we have individual members who start to reach out and do that, but considering the demographics of home inspection as a whole, ASHI has done a pretty decent job with diversity, one within the team itself, the staff, the service of our home… But also within the make-up of our membership. And the reason why I say that is because, yes, it’s a predominantly male, probably Caucasian-focused profession. I think I could say that, but the truth is…

RS: Oh.

JT: Yes, but for who we are and considering that that’s the make-up of the profession, the diversity within our membership has been incredible. And I’ll say this, too, the understanding of our membership, to say this is something we need to devote time and energy and resources towards, is encouraging because it’s not that way in other professions and in other associations where there are… I’m talking outside of home inspection, I’m talking about other associations that are long-established similar to home inspection associations, where people are very happy with the status quo. It’s not that they are necessarily actively against any kind of change, but it’s more like, “Okay, we’ll just keep status quo,” to see people invested and try to push forward to make an active shift. For us, from a demographic shift, it’s that reaching out to younger inspectors because by nature, younger inspectors are more diverse. We’re finding that out because they now are entering in through different outlets. And so there is an initiative that we are trying to do to bring diversity to ASHI, but reality of it is, our chapters and our grassroots reach is gonna be much more powerful than an initiative coming from a nameless, faceless national organization, right?

BO: Sure. So speaking of shifts in markets and shifts in business, if I ask you to look into the future five to seven years, what does the home inspection industry look like from your perspective?

JT: That is a wonderful loaded question, so I appreciate you for asking that. However, I think that when we talk about the home inspection profession, right now we are really, really tied to the real estate transaction, correct? I mean the truth is, you can use a home inspector at any time in the life of your home, which could be at any time, but the reality of it is it’s really tied to the real estate transaction. I think, as I may have mentioned prior, that in our current climate with the global pandemic, I think for us to believe that any profession or industry will come out, I’m gonna use the term unscathed, but I don’t necessarily mean that in a negative way, I think that if we look at thinking that everything is going to… I can’t stand the term new normal, so let’s just put that aside, but if we think that we’re going to return to everything as it was, I think we are going to be sadly mistaken. Because there are going to be a lot of shifts in the real estate transaction itself, because I’ll tell you this, all of a sudden, it was very unsafe for people to be able to have someone in their home or to do this or do that, but real estate transactions were still happening, right?

BO: Yes.

JT: And because they had to happen, we started to see things start to adjust and change as never before because it still has to happen, so it wasn’t like this theoretical, “Well, what would happen if we did this? What would we need to do?” I mean I think one of the first… ASHI set its own protocols and we did some videos and things, but I wanna say that you all at Structure Tech were the first. I think Reuben released a video alongside here are the new protocols and here’s what we need to do, that was a spur of the moment, innovative approach that had to happen. We were forced into it. So in the next three to five to seven years, there are gonna be some more forced events that we’re going to have to adapt for. I mean to think that the real estate transaction market with major players entering the space, both know this, whether it’s an Amazon, or a Redfin, a Zillow there are these… It’s going to change the approach in the real estate transaction market, right?

BO: Right.

JT: And to think that other tangential industries or partner industries, if you wanna put it that way, if they’re going to have some major shifts, they’re going to have some major shifts, and I think that COVID-19 absolutely accelerated that. And for us to think that we are gonna come out of that unscathed is a little bit naïve. But I will say this that there is in the real estate transaction, the home inspection itself is a stand-alone that can’t be as disruptive because you need boots on the ground, you need somebody in there to look at it. And I know that there were some, believe me, there were some virtual inspections and things that had to happen, but there still needs to be a level of knowledge and expertise applied towards it being seen, right?

BO: Yeah, kind of a forensic side.

JT: You have to have a forensic side to it, right, absolutely. So I think that in five to seven years, there are going to be major shifts to the real estate transaction in general, so you’re gonna see some tangential industries start to feel that because major players come in and they disrupt. Amazon came in just to sell books. Nobody paid them any heed. I mean it was just like, “Oh, they’re gonna be a bookseller. Okay, where are you gonna go with that?” And we see where they’re at now. And so in the same way, these other industries I feel like are going to be impacted a lot harder than home inspection, but there will absolutely be a shift and a change. I think that some of it will be… I’m just going to pontificate here for a second and humor me, I may not be… You can hold me to this five years from now and say, “Hey, James, you’re completely wrong on any of these predictions and we have the proof, it’s on this podcast.” I’ll listen to it and weep, but just in my mind, I think there’s going to be a drive towards quicker returns on how quickly do you get a report?

JT: I think there’s going to be a push towards… I don’t know how to say this, but if you think about a lot of how people perceive the quality of a business as consumer sourced. You look at anyone from Gen Z to millennials, and I hate these broad overreaching generational allotments, but the truth is that most people will look at on Amazon and see what the reviews are before purchasing something, so you start to see these shifts where home inspectors, in order to survive or to differentiate, they’re going to be client-serviced. And they already are and don’t get me wrong, because just by the nature of what they do, they’re going to have to be more client-serviced in the perception. It’s not in the actual work, ’cause you ask any home inspector who’s worth the salt, he’ll tell you right now, I am not gonna short… I am not short-tailing my consumers. And they take a lot of time and effort, but I think it’s gonna be how they message it. How do you communicate what you’ve just… To someone who’s probably going to be a first homebuyer, a lot less people who are more hands-on, but the truth is, they’re going to look for the home inspector to be a true educator and say, “Hey, I’m just gonna give you some friendly advice here, it’s not in the standard practice, but here’s what a maintenance schedule should look like for you.”

JT: So these additional things to kind of create value. It’s already started happening with radon testing and all these other things that came in over the years, but I think there’s going to be a soft skills, what we call soft skills. There’s going to have to be a stronger focus on that because the opportunities may be fewer and far between, and there’s no longer referral sources you’re looking to. You’re just going up against nameless faceless void of sellers and buyers, but you get to still make that personal interaction, and so you have to make it worth the person’s while. And so I think it’s educating before the inspection itself, during inspection and after the inspection outside of the scope of a typical home inspection, but rather, “Okay, you’re investing in your first home, here’s the other things you need to know. Here’s some lasting advice.”

JT: And I think that home inspection will start to shift if they can do that, to not just being a real estate transactional occurrence, but rather that’s my trusted expert on all things. So I’m gonna reach back out to Structure Tech because I’m kinda not sure if I need a new roof or whatever, and they told me that at some point I’ll need… I know they have an unbiased view versus somebody coming and looking to try to sell me something, they’ll come with an unbiased view. And the more we start to push that, the unbiased expert, you will continue longevity and so it won’t be a one and done, as we’re seeing now, but a continual maybe through the lifetime of that person’s house, that that entity continues to have that connection with the homeowner.

BO: I always make the reference that we as home inspectors are most like internal medicine doctors in the sense that we are the starting point, the gateway to other relationships, we kinda do the triaging and then tell you how to communicate with that next level person. If it’s the orthopedist, if it’s the rheumatologist, if it’s the cardiologist, you can have a better conversation because you had your experience with us. But ultimately, they’ll come back to us again for the next direction to go to when they need us. So you become a relationship with an address as much as you do a relationship with the client, and who best to talk to than the person who knows that house the best, and so maybe there’s a long-term relationship with an address.

JT: Wonderful analogy and I 100% agree with you on that. That’s a great way of putting it. You have a strong relationship with that address and the truth is… Yeah, because it is interesting and for myself as a homeowner, I know my house, but I don’t know know my house, [laughter] you know what I’m saying? So a home inspector will come in and be like, “Oh, that’s normal, that little creaky here.” I’m just throwing my hands up in the air and kinda doing that I don’t know sign when I hear something creak or whatever. So I completely agree with you on that. That’s a wonderful analogy. Thank you.

BO: Well, we should probably wrap this up. This has been a great conversation, but if my attention span is average, we better put the wraps on this. [laughter] James, thank you so much for spending some time with us. We covered a lot of ground there. We could probably go on for another part two on this very easy.

RS: Yeah, we should. James, you’re always a delight. I always love listening to you talk, sir.

JT: Oh, I appreciate that, Reuben. That’s really quite high praise for me and I appreciate that. Thank you so much. It was an honor to be on the podcast and I appreciate you all giving me the time to just rant.

BO: Let’s plug ASHI a little bit. If you wanna know more about the organization, you can go to homeinspector.org, and that’s the gateway into ASHI, and every year there’s the Inspection World, where is 2021 gonna be held? And today as we talk, is it gonna be a live conference?

JT: So 2021, we are still in the planning process. We’ll be in Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. The approach right now is absolutely have something on the ground. We’ve always done it, it’s always happened, we’ll figure it out. It may look a lot different than years prior, it might be a hybrid of some sort, incorporating some virtual aspects to it. But we’re excited at the opportunity it does afford to be a little bit more creative and to force ourselves to do something a little different than the way it’s always been done, so that absolutely will be there. We’ll keep you updated. Homeinspector.org is a great place to start if you need information on ASHI ’cause it really contains all of that. The website will be completely revamped and overhauled in a few weeks, and that will be launched to the general public. So you all will see that and it’ll be a positive experience, very intuitive, and it just looks beautiful, so you’ll all see that shortly.

BO: Well, that voice you are listening to is James Thomas, the Executive Director of ASHI, American Society of Home Inspectors. My name is Bill Oelrich alongside Reuben Saltzman today, missing Tessa Murray but we will have her back next time, and you’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. Thanks and we’ll catch you next time.