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Surviving in the wild, wild west of home inspections

Let’s face it: finding a good home inspector can be difficult.

As of this writing, there are still fifteen states across the country that do not regulate home inspectors in any way, shape, or form.

If you live in Michigan, for instance, you could set up shop as a home inspector with no relevant training or formal experience whatsoever and start doing business tomorrow. While such low-barrier entry appeals to the libertarian in me, I’ve heard enough horror stories to know better.

Even here in Ohio, one of the thirty-five states with licensing requirements on the books, finding a home inspector who offers quality service can be hit-or-miss.

Ohio instituted new regulations for home inspectors in 2020. Now, to enter the field you have to complete so many hours of formal training, gain field experience with an already licensed inspector, complete background checks, and so forth. All the things you might expect from a licensed professional.

Practicing inspectors who had already been in the game for a while were “grandfathered” in without having to complete the up-front requirements placed upon new inspectors. While this decision seemed reasonable enough, in some cases, it resulted in very poor outcomes. Allow me to illustrate with an example from my own experience.

Last year, I received a call from a woman who had moved to town another state. During the home-buying process, she handled all her business from afar, trusting her real estate agent to fill in the blanks on everything she needed along the way, including the home inspection.

Typically, a buyer will contract directly with the home inspector as a third-party service provider. Sometimes, though, the real estate agent will take this responsibility on themselves and handle it for their client.

In this case, it didn’t work out so great.

When the lady contacted me, she was very upset. According to her, the initial home inspection had revealed nothing of concern. At least, that’s what she was told. Despite repeated requests, the report was not even shared with her until the day before closing, and even then, no effort was made to help her understand the findings.

Although the process frustrated her, she decided to trust her agent and move forward with the deal. After closing on the house and moving to town, however, she discovered that none of the windows in the house were operable. They were the old wood type from the weight-and-pulley era of the mid-twentieth century. Not only were they sealed shut with multiple layers of paint, but many of the ropes had been cut, making them impossible to operate.

Not long after settling into her new home, she detected a musty odor coming from the air ducts. Every time the HVAC system fired up, her allergies flared and gave her a fit. By her own admission, her first spring season in southern Ohio was quite miserable.

Eventually, she decided to have a second inspection performed. That’s when she called me.

Turns out the furnace was drawing air from a musty old cellar that was full of mold and other airborne contaminants. The fact that she was unable to open the windows for extra ventilation made the impact on her sinuses all the worse. But that wasn’t the half of it. The house had extensive termite damage in the cellar and attic which had been overlooked in the initial report. Live knob-and-tube wiring was also buried in the attic insulation, which is a potential fire hazard that many lenders and insurance companies will insist on having replaced before closing on a deal.

In other words, this poor lady got screwed. She knew it, and I knew it. Hence the frustration.

The guy who did the initial inspection was an old hat who had been doing business in the area long before the state began requiring a certain standard of practice. I don’t know the guy personally, and I have no desire to call him out publicly, but this instance goes to show the difficulty that an individual can face in finding quality home inspection services even in states where the industry is regulated.

The moral of the story is simple. As a buyer, you should always perform due diligence when choosing a home inspector. If you don’t know where to start, ask your realtor, but don’t just take their word for everything. Although the real estate and home inspection industries are closely related, they are two separate fields with a different set of standards and expectations.

Make sure the person you’re getting is trained, licensed, and insured. Look for a professional who will communicate clearly with you on the process from beginning to end. Ask for their license number. Have them review the state-issued standards of practice with you. Check references if need be.

Above all, don’t assume they know what they’re doing and will provide quality service just because the state or licensing board says they should. It’s a bit like the wild, wild west out here, and the sheriff won’t always be in town to look out for you.

So, do yourself a favor and have your own back. I’m not saying you need to show up to the inspection packing heat, but you should arm yourself with an awareness that the home inspection industry is still very much in its infancy, and when you’re getting ready to make what is possibly the biggest investment of your life, the last thing you want is to fall prey to an undisciplined home inspector.