Career Notes on Becoming a Home Inspector in Canada
So you want to become a Home Inspector?
While the Home Inspection profession remains unregulated in Canada, getting into it without completing sufficient training in all aspects of home construction, can prove to be a very costly if you make a major mistake.
There is no quick and dirty way to become a true professional home inspector. It takes considerable time and effort. You cannot take one course and expect to know all you need to get into business. Many courses are recommended on subjects like, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, Structural, Health & Safety and parts of the Residential Building Code to name just a few.
Aligning oneself with a recognized professional association and/or working towards a legitimate home inspection designation, will not only afford your business the best chance of success but also offer your clientele peace of mind in knowing that they are dealing with an experienced professional .
Do you have what it takes?
No matter what profession you are in now, there is no one profession that will ever fully prepare someone to become a home inspector. You will need defect recognition training and extensive knowledge of electrical, plumbing, heating, cooling and ventilation systems, foundations and roofing of building structures. Although construction related fields require an understanding of how homes are built, they almost never deal with the extended use and age related deterioration of components that the home inspector encounters on a daily basis ( Defect Recognition). You will also require knowledge of components that may have become obsolete yet are still in service.
Some multi-inspector firm owners or franchises believe that anyone can be trained to perform home inspections. Granted there are many courses available that have been tailored to suit the average lay person, but if you have absolutely no background in construction work, you are at grave risk practicing in the field. The ability to recognize conditions that may be a problem comes in part from experience with "what goes wrong." No single course, nor even a collection of courses, can prepare you for all of the significant conditions that occur in the field. An inspector who fails to recognize such defects is guilty of failure to meet the due-diligence standards of professional service and may face serious repercussions. Home inspection is becoming a very litigious and often hazardous occupation, an error can result in catastrophic financial loss or even death by such things as carbon monoxide poisoning or electrocution.
What would be a perfect background?
Ideally, a combination of construction experience, education, defect recognition training, and practical work in the field would give someone the background required. Many individuals, who may be professionals in their right such as engineers and architects, do not necessarily make good home inspectors without the training specific to home inspection.
Most professional associations ideally look for candidate members from related trades or professional occupations. Many associations recognize that a combination of formal training and hands-on experience produce the best field performance for the profession, and for that reason did not limit certification to professional engineers, nor to licensed contractors. Rather, combinations of the two types of background produce the best-informed practitioner.
College-level formal education, possibly including engineering, architecture, and construction management is a plus.
Strong interpersonal and communication skills are imperative in this line of business. You can be the greatest technician in the world, but if you can't communicate effectively, you are of little service to your clients.
Prospective inspectors should have strong technical backgrounds to start with prior to considering home inspection as a profession or career change. They will need good interpersonal skills and must be good communicators (verbally and written) as they will be required to report and explain their findings accurately to their clientele. Home inspectors also need to be aware of current health and safety issues and be trained in "defect recognition" a very specific area and crucial to this profession. They must also gain practical knowledge through fieldwork. Many often train or shadow with "seasoned professionals" prior to opening their own practice, as practical experience is often difficult to obtain and often not covered or provided by many training courses. There is NO SUBSTITUTE for practical field experience in this profession.
Unregulated…so who inspects the inspectors?
In Canada, home inspection remains totally unregulated in most provinces and hence anyone from any background can basically "hang out a shingle" as a home inspector. Many qualified and trained home inspection professionals are hoping for government intervention, National Standards of Practice and eventual self-regulation to alleviate this problem in the near future.
Often handy men and women, who find themselves out of work, may be looking to supplement their income and often pose themselves as home inspectors to an unsuspecting public. These individuals are often not trained in home inspection, do not necessarily carry insurance to protect themselves or their clients and often do not provide written reports. Frequently, poor judgment by these untrained "would-be" inspectors occurs that eventually affect the consumer financially. When this happens, the consumer is left with little or no recourse for compensation for their loss. That's how few individuals can often give a profession a bad name.
In Canada there are several provincial associations whose practicing members are generally professionals from related construction, engineering or architectural backgrounds. These individuals have undergone extensive training and testing specific to home inspection called "Defect Recognition" They are also well versed on several health and safety issues. There are also requirements for the completion of fieldwork and practical applications.
These associations while provincially independent generally operate under the umbrella of the Canadian Association of Home Inspectors (CAHI - also known as CAHPI - The Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors) and have set "Standards of Practice" and "Codes of Ethics" for their members as benchmarks for the industry. The associations require that their members fulfill educational upgrades on an ongoing basis to ensure that they stay aware of current issues in the industry. These associations offer a professional designation to individuals who have met all their qualifications. To gain a designation, candidates are required to obtain a number of qualification "credits" which are made up of education, experience, fieldwork, a minimum of a specific number of fee-paid inspections and written reports which meet the Standards of Practice for the association.
Provincial Associations however have led to some inconsistency in requirements between the provinces. Some are more demanding - other less. For this reason a "National Initiative" was stated in the 1990's in order to establish truly National Standards and to develop a National Designation which would permit Home Inspectors to achieve consistency from Coast to Coast to Coast. This was finally accomplished and the National Home Inspector Certification Council (NHICC) has been granted the right to continue this program (see letter of approval from the Construction Sector Council) . NHICC is a totally unbiased and independent certification body that is not controlled or influenced by any Home Inspection Association in Canada. Their designation "National Home Inspector" (NHI) may be awarded to any home inspector in Canada who can demonstrate their knowledge and proficiency in conducting professional home Inspections. There are numerous training requirements as well as actual "Test Inspection Peer Review" requiring candidates to have to conduct an inspection in front of a peer review board to ensure not only their level of knowledge but also their report writing and presentation skills. This is the reason why Canada Mortgage and Housing strongly recommends that consumers hire Professionals like "National Home Inspectors" to conduct their next Home Inspection. Here are some general Questions and Answers about the NHICC.
For more information on NHICC visit their website www.nationalhomeinspector.org
Does an inspector have to be a member of a professional association? The truth of the matter is no they don't - but that doesn't mean they can take shortcuts with their training . While professional affiliation does have it's obvious advantages as far as increased credibility, consumer confidence, access to insurance and enforced continued educational requirements, it is not mandatory as of yet - except in British Columbia & Alberta.
While the industry does not explicitly require formal course training, inspectors lacking exposure to more disciplined and formal training are often at extra risk of having difficulty distinguishing between arm-waving "opinion" and well-researched authoritative sources of information. This may be a critical distinction if you are to practice as a qualified professional rather than simply as a generic business operator.
Remember – no single course - on it's own – will instantly make you a home inspector.
If you think you can get into this business with just one course - forget it! You must have extensive technical knowledge, defect recognition training, be an effective communicator and have practical experience under your belt prior to going into business. In reality, training generally takes a few years. Being able to establish a successful business is not the end of the learning process. It must never stop in order for an inspector to remain current and up to date on housing issues.
On occasion, an inspector who may have been at one time, aligned with a professional association, chooses to become a nonaligned independent for whatever reason. Here you have fully qualified individual who no longer carries a professional designation or affiliation. Does this make them any less of a professional? Not necessarily, provided they work to the same professional standards and code of ethics. They must also ensure that they remain current on issues pertaining to their industry such as health and safety concerns.
On the other hand, there are many unqualified individuals who pose as inspectors. Many operate having little or no training, do not carry insurance or provide written reports. These individuals often do not belong to a professional association because they would not qualify. So who protects the consumer in these situations? Unfortunately, no one at this time. This is why many qualified professionals would like to see legislation passed that would ensure consumers that "professional home inspectors" have the necessary technical, industry specific, practical requirements, carry insurance and provide written reporting to an industry standard. This move is coming in the future – How it will affect aligned and nonaligned professionals in this industry is yet to be determined. While professional home inspection associations across Canada can claim growing membership numbers, the actual number of home inspectors in Canada remains a mystery. It is common knowledge in the industry that the majority of home inspectors in Canada have chosen not to align themselves with any professional association for reasons of their own.
Our advice to consumers – ASK QUESTIONS – lots of them before choosing your home inspector. Are they insured? Have they ever had any legal judgments against them? How long have they been in business? How many inspections completed by the person you are specifically hiring (not just their company as a group)? Do they have related experience and in what area? Obtain references (preferably a solicitor or bank manager) and call them, before making your choice of inspector. Remember - there is no substitute for experience. If they do not hold a professional home inspection designation, ask about related experience or other possible professional designations and/or training such as engineering or building code officials etc.
A rewarding profession – but perhaps, not for everyone
It isn't as easy as it looks
While the business looks easy, we can assure you that it is not. You will find it to be extremely demanding physically and emotionally. As for the physical aspects, when you find yourself popping your head through a 70 degree Celsius attic hatch opening while inhaling insulation fibers and preservatives, or checking the foundation exterior at 30 degrees below zero in blowing snow, you may ask yourself why you ever wanted to get into this business.
As for the emotional aspects, you are immersing yourself in a transaction that has extremely important financial and emotional implications for all parties involved. Home purchasers are often making the largest investment of their lives and may be hanging off your every word. You will often be the bearer of bad news especially if they have made their purchase selection with their hearts, rather than their heads. You may be called a liar and accused of all sorts of misdeeds by sellers and agents alike – so think before you speak and be certain you can back up your opinion if need be. You may often experience sleepless nights worrying about being sued. Problems are the nature of this business, both real and imaginary. Your inspection and report may have created these problems. If you're a trained, experienced, competent expert, your inspection and report will help avoid some of these problems. But not all of them even the most diligent inspectors can make mistakes – we are all human.
In many cases, your job isn't finished once you simply hand the client your report. You may receive many additional phone calls regarding your inspection and spend countless hours answering questions. An angry vendor may be infuriated with your findings of their home or the agent may place a complaint call to you and label you a "deal-buster". You may have to re-explain your findings to the client or perhaps a spouse that was not present during the inspection process.
Do you have what it takes to be a home inspector?
Lets go back and review once more. Ideally, you should have a combination of construction experience, education, defect recognition training, and practical work in the field. You need to be an effective communicator. You must have the financial depth to start a business and you need to get lots of practice before setting out in earnest.
- Hands-on construction experience in all aspects of residential construction, both new construction and repair/renovation work.
- Familiarity with building codes, electrical and plumbing codes, etc.
- Intimate familiarity with good construction practices for every major residential construction topic, in depth, in great detail.
- Familiarity with computers, word processing and accounting software.
- Effective communication, presentation and report writing skills.
- Financial strength to support not only living while training, but to self-insure against likely errors and omissions in inspections and reports.
- A good business and financial plan will assist you if you require bank financing.
- A solid support team to answer calls and book appointments can be very beneficial.
- Familiarity with real estate practices, sales, legal and marketing issues.
There are several training schools and courses available, which can help. Try to find one that compliments and builds upon the skills that you already have. Remember practical experience and technical training is critical in this profession. Very few courses offer the combination of both. Remember – no course - on it's own – will instantly make you a home inspector. You may need to take a wide variety of courses, depending on your background and experience. Most of these courses are offered after regular business hours (part time in the evening) and may take several months to complete.
Very few correspondence courses or on-line classes provide any practical training. Many community colleges offer courses that are recognized by professional home inspection associations. These courses while very thorough, may be very time consuming and take several years to complete. Quite often, the courses are not offered each and every semester adding to the time factor. Correspondence courses or on-line offerings may offer an alternative to traditional classroom venues. In most cases you will require a combination of courses so choose carefully. Some may even be specifically designed for professionals in related fields, to give them a taste of the profession as a possible career change.
Several colleges with continuing education divisions offer home inspection courses and certificate programs. Many also offer valuable trade-courses in proper construction practices for every construction component and trade. These can be invaluable, particularly for those areas with which you are most unfamiliar.
Some low-value courses include much course material taken from other previously prepared courses in architecture, real estate, blueprint reading, which are nice background but mostly irrelevant. Some of these courses leave very little content that actually includes the key information that home inspectors need to know – defect recognition, effective communication and report writing.
Some individual inspectors offer to train would-be professionals, charging as much as $10,000. Some schools (especially in the USA) offer the opportunity to shadow a teacher during inspections for a week as additional training – the cost to do so is usually very high and often the several thousand-dollar range. There are other alternatives that may be far more cost effective. Training packages offered with some of these costly individuals may put you at risk to be poorly trained by an individual who may not even be a top performer in the profession.
Choosing Educational Courses
What are you getting? If the course costs $2000. and includes $1500. worth of computer hardware and software, and has 3/4 of its content borrowed from architecture and blueprint reading, how much actual home inspection defect recognition training could possibly have been included?
Be sure to research the course outline carefully to fully understand the scope of it's content. Try whenever possible, to gain valuable practical training or "hands-on" experience.
Many professional instructors are great teachers and many professional home inspectors are very competent at their work. But whether an instructor can offer instruction on practical home inspection or a home inspector get their point across while teaching, is another matter! The key is in finding a good home inspector, with a proven track record, who can teach what they know - effectively!
Discuss the course, its providers and instructors, with experienced professionals in your area. Remember to research whether the parties you inquire with, are themselves offering similar services, if so, their opinion may be rather bias. One of the most reliable sources is to ask for student referrals and discuss their opinions of the course. They may also be able to provide you with insights on setting up a business and their personal experiences.
Experience is an absolute necessity, but is hard to come by when you are entering the business. Although some inspection companies in your proposed marketing area might be reluctant to train you to compete with them, some professionals, locally or in other areas are happy to take you along on a few inspections. If you have this opportunity – it can be very worthwhile. Generally there will be a minimum fee charged to do so.
Another approach is joining an inspection company as a trainee. Obviously, only multi-inspector firms would do this. You need to make some phone calls to find out who they are.
Several major inspection franchise companies make it easier for a novice to "get into business." Some offer good training. Some are marketing their "canned report forms", documents and programs. Beware that such companies which profess "their way" of inspecting as if were the "only" way to succeed. How qualified are their instructors and what is their track record?
However a quality franchise operation often offers the most support in training and marketing, and will be of particular use to new entrants who have the least experience in construction and business. You may pay a premium for this however.
Remember though, franchises are often very costly, if you are considering one, ask other franchise operators in your area for their opinions of whether or not the financial investment was worth it - you may be surprised with what you hear.
A good instructor must be an excellent communicator, know the profession, provide industry insights and be well respected by their peers. Many educators are strictly that and have either been out of the actual industry or where never directly involved to begin with. Again, try to gain the assistance of someone with a proven track record and still current in the field.
Before even attempting to start a business of any kind, you need to have the financial depth to get it off the ground and to support you and your family during the process. In the USA, as many as 65% of new small businesses fail in their first year. Most of them were under capitalized. Part of getting started is paying for your education. Ensure that part of your learning process not only includes the technical training but tips for setting up your business, establishing a business and/or financial plan. This will give you credibility when you approach your Bank, Trust Company or Credit Union for financing.
A startup budget of $15,000 (or less) should be ample to cover the cost of computer hardware and software, company stationery and reports, inspection attire and tools. You will need a reliable vehicle preferably a late model van or pickup truck. Ongoing expenses include automobile operating costs, telephone, internet connection, web master, insurance, marketing/advertising, accounting, and office supplies. Many of these costs can be kept to a minimum until your business grows. Once established, you may want to consider hiring an office assistant to answer your phone, schedule inspections, and administer day-to-day activities. A cellular telephone with voice mail may help until you can afford to hire someone. If a spouse or other family member can do this for you, even better.
One other startup option, of course, is to purchase a franchise. These "packages" typically provide training, marketing support and, occasionally, equipment and materials. However, the initial investment is significantly higher than it is for an independent business, and the monthly royalties can end up making a significant dent in your income. Franchisees may typically pay approximately 8-10% of their monthly gross to their franchiser.
You will also require enough working capital to see you through your initial training period (this will vary for each individual based on their prior knowledge). Don't think for a minute that revenue in a service business is all profit. If you do, you risk becoming one of the many business failure statistics. You may not believe it, but overhead costs may run close to 50% of gross income or more in the beginning when you begin to initially market your services to the public, agents, lawyers and financial institutions.
There are many other considerations such as whether to operate a sole-proprietorship, a partnership, purchase a franchise or work for an established home inspection firm. You will have to weigh the pros and cons of each option.
Home inspection is a very risky business. Your customer's expectations will be very high. In order to survive, you will need to be very good and very careful. Sharing ideas and experience with others in the business helps, but you must know what you are doing and consistently do it well, every inspection, every day. If you don't know – admit it opening and then go find the answer. This is not a business to guess at…if you do it may cost you dearly.
Know your stuff before you strut it!
Errors and Omissions Insurance coverage is available through some professional home inspection associations and is a must before you start. Independent insurance firms often offer insurance packages for nonaligned individuals or association members who may still be in the process of working towards their professional designation (rates are generally at a premium however). Going into the home inspection business without insurance coverage is not generally recommended – regardless of the cost. Make a serious mistake and it could end up costing you everything you own if you are not insured for errors and omissions and liability. You very well may find yourself involved in a lawsuit even though you were not at fault. While you may be able to prove that you are not at fault, legal costs will run into the thousands. However many new inspectors find that insurance may not be available - make certain that you have make the appropriate business arrangements if you find yourself in this predicament. You may wish to ensure that you or your company do not hold any tangible assets if you are not insured.
While home inspection has its risks, it also has its rewards. If you decide to open your own business, you set your time schedule and reap the full financial rewards of your labour.
If you provide your clients with good service they will repay your efforts time and time again by referring you to others. When you warn a client about a serious housing defect that could have been costly in the long run, you are their best friend for life! You also feel equally satisfied when your clients are able to make an informed decision and are successful in the purchase of a good home, based upon your opinion. In both of these cases, you and your clients, come out on top.
So while the job can be stressful, it can also provide a strong sense of satisfaction in knowing that you have assisted someone in making an informed decision on perhaps one of the most important and largest purchases of their lifetime.