Are you thinking about becoming a home inspector? Whether you’re just entering the workforce or you’re thinking of switching from another career, you may be wondering if you need a background in construction to be a successful home inspector.
It’s a fair question; most new inspectors have construction experience. However, there’s still hope for you if you don’t—at HomeGauge, many of our inspectors were previously firefighters, law enforcement officers, engineers, IT specialists, and more!
One trained and licensed inspector without a traditional construction background told us, “I’ve always had more of a mechanical background, and I think that’s helped me a lot…. It wasn’t even necessarily the home inspections that first drew me to it; it was the not working in an office, …working in a different place every day, …[and] not being tethered down to that office environment.”
Does that sound like you?
Home inspection can be an attractive career for many, and people from many backgrounds can find success performing home inspections.
In this post, we’ll cover the basics of starting a career in home inspection, the advantages of having a background in construction, and how you might gain the knowledge you need to be a home inspector even if you don’t have construction experience. Then, we’ll talk about some of the most important qualities an aspiring home inspector needs for a long and successful career—regardless of their occupational background.
What do you need to begin a career as a home inspector?
The process for becoming a home inspector varies widely from state to state, since there is no universal licensing requirement—and some states don’t even require a license at all.
Most states that regulate inspector licensing require a high school diploma or GED equivalent, and many of them have specific licensure requirements, such as academic coursework and fieldwork. Every state is different, which is why it’s important to check your state and local requirements before signing up for a licensure course, to make sure the course will be acceptable in your state.
Aside from questions of licensure, there are also several certifications that inspectors can achieve through professional organizations like the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) and the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). Many inspectors choose to become certified through these organizations.
The process to obtain certification includes training and fieldwork, but since the job requires knowledge of how homes are built and are meant to operate, many inspectors build on previous experience in the building trades as well.
Advantages of a construction-related background
Home inspection is based on experience and knowledge of a home’s components—and if you spent years in one of the building trades, you’re already familiar with many of the systems and components you’re inspecting. Common building trades include:
- HVAC installation and repair
- Electrical work
It stands to reason that if you go into your home inspection career with extensive knowledge of construction or a related building trade, you’ll have a head start on other “newbies” coming from unrelated fields.
Why is this important, you ask? Having experience gives you knowledge of what kinds of things “go wrong.”
For example, if you have years of experience in HVAC installation and repair, you know that using inadequate or cheap ductwork materials can create gapping and cracks in a furnace installation. You’ve probably seen for yourself that a leaky duct can lead to increased energy consumption, drafts, and excess dust and humidity.
Someone without your first-hand experience may not be able to spot the signs of cheap or shoddy furnace installation, which could lead to an oversight during a home inspection.
One inspector from Richmond, Virginia told us that it’s beneficial to have some background in the building trades, but it’s not mandatory. “Anyone can get a job selling cars,” he said, “But do they know what they’re doing? Your top tier guys have on-the-job experience.”
Certification or licensing courses can only prepare you for so much. While mentorship is an essential aspect of every new home inspector’s training process regardless of their background, someone without construction experience should be sure to have an expert mentor who can guide them as they get started in their new career.
Starting a career in home inspection with no construction background is still possible
While having a background in construction can be very helpful, it may not always be required for a new home inspector.
For instance, experience in one of the technical (or ”expert”) trades such as electrical or HVAC systems might give you an edge because they have a higher barrier to entry — however, you’re still only advantaged in that one area. This is why all of the inspectors we spoke with recommended having a well-rounded knowledge of homes and mentioned the importance of continuing education.
Being a home inspector means reviewing all the visible systems and components in a home. Having decades of experience in plumbing or drywall, for example, doesn’t make you better prepared to spot a problem in a home’s electrical system than any other home inspector.
The inspectors we spoke with have diverse backgrounds, but they were all able to get the hands-on experience needed to do the job of a home inspector—and most think having held a job in the construction industry is not necessarily a necessity.
For instance, Dennis Kruger of Southern Wisconsin Home Inspection told us that home inspection requires much more than knowledge from any one specific trade. He transitioned to home inspection after he retired from his job as a state trooper.
“Having a general knowledge of buildings, how buildings work…. And a good rapport with a client” are the most important tools in a home inspector’s belt, according to Kruger. “It’s not us against them; we’re just one part of the home-buying process, and we’re helping them along. Good people skills are an important part of it.”
Kruger says that aspiring inspectors can gather the experience and knowledge they need through shadowing other inspectors and members of the building trades. While having had a career in construction isn’t absolutely necessary, it is vital to have a community you can draw on to fill in the gaps of your own knowledge—and make sure to stay curious and keep learning throughout your career with courses and other community members in the home inspection industry.
Another inspector, Travis Weber of Weber Home Inspections (Lincoln, Nebraska), who started out as an electrician, told us that it is extremely important to have experience in construction, but construction is only a part of it—and regardless of your experience, it doesn’t hurt to have a variety of professionals from the various building trades and other home inspectors that you can shadow and/or ask for advice.
No matter your experience or background, being open to feedback and advice from others in your industry is always a key to success in your career, and home inspection is no exception.
Most important qualities for a successful career as a home inspector
- Initiative and enthusiasm: Arguably the most essential skill for a home inspector to possess is a willingness to give 100% at all times, along with a true enthusiasm for the work. Are you excited about all things related to home construction and operation?
- Eagerness to learn: Regardless of your background, it’s likely that you don’t know everything about the real estate industry. For a home inspector—who must be on the lookout for issues with every visible aspect of the home—it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll run across something that you aren’t familiar with. Are you eager to ask other industry professionals for advice and instruction?
- Attention to detail: According to one inspector we interviewed, “the ability to learn, and pay attention, and not turn the job into a pattern is a very important skill to have, [along with] being detail-oriented. A lot of this job can become a pattern with the same routine every time you walk through the house, so it’s easy to get comfortable and miss things. So having the right mindset can get an inspector very far.” Do you have the ability to pay attention to the little things?
- Critical thinking: When you inevitably run across a problem you don’t know the answer to, do you know how to use logic and critical thinking skills to solve the issue?
- Communication skills: A quality home inspector knows how to properly communicate issues with customers. Can you comfortably engage with your clients and list the issues with a home?
- Business acumen and salesmanship: Most home inspectors still get a majority of their clients from real estate agent referrals. Do you know how to close a deal over the phone and network with real estate agents? Does the idea of handling your own marketing, networking, and administrative tasks sound exciting (or at the very least, manageable) to you?
- Knowledge of home construction: It’s very helpful to have a background related to home construction—however, it’s possible to overcome a lack of construction experience with training and gain the necessary experience in other ways. For instance, shadowing other professionals and having an expert mentor on-call is always a good idea.
Takeaway: A background in construction is helpful but not absolutely necessary in order to become a home inspector
While a construction background isn’t necessarily the end-all, be-all for home inspectors, knowledge of construction and the rest of the building trades can set you up for success as a home inspector. But whether you start from scratch or have a background in construction, the real indicator of success is whether you’re willing to put in the time and effort to become an expert now.
It’s very helpful for home inspectors to have a construction background, but anyone with a strong knowledge of homes and the proper training should not be discouraged. In the end, it’s important to play to your strengths, acknowledge (and bolster) your weaknesses, and get as much training as you can and choose an excellent mentor.
If you haven’t gotten personal experience as a construction worker or other building tradesman, don’t give up hope; as long as you have the eagerness to learn, initiative, critical thinking skills, and business acumen, a satisfying career as a home inspector can still be yours!