Becoming a Home Inspector: A Step-by-Step Guide

August 3, 2020 | 
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Becoming a home inspector is an excellent career move. If you’re looking to downshift from a lifetime in construction or other industries by starting your own home inspection company, or if you’re just entering the workforce, this is a field that is expected to grow faster than many others in the next decade.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for home inspectors and related professions is excellent, with growth projected to be about 7% through 2028. That’s not surprising, given that one recent survey found that 88% of home buyers worked with an inspector before closing the deal on a property. As long as people are buying and selling houses, home inspectors will be in demand.

And it’s definitely worth mentioning that property inspectors can make a good living. Depending on where you live and your experience in the industry, you can expect to earn between $50,000 and $64,000 annually. This is one of the pros of becoming a home inspector!

That’s because home inspectors have expertise in construction that’s in high demand. Home inspections are strongly recommended for nearly every real estate transaction, whether it’s on behalf of a seller looking to solve problems ahead of time or a buyer looking to make an informed decision about a house they’ve fallen in love with.

Most states require specific training and licensure or certification to prove that you have what it takes to thoroughly inspect a home. Here’s how to get the education and training you need to become a home inspector.

Duties and responsibilities of a home inspector

Home inspectors play a crucial role in a real estate transaction. Their job is to look for and report on any defects in a home so that buyers understand exactly what they’re getting. After all, no one wants to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars only to find out that they’ll need to replace the furnace before winter sets in.

A thorough inspection report provides information to the buyers, of course, but it’s also useful to help them negotiate a fair price or ask for modifications before agreeing to a sale. On the other hand, a pre-listing or seller’s inspection report can help sellers understand what they may need to modify or repair before making a sale and can help agents sell the home for more with evidence of upgrades and “good bones” in hand.

What a home inspector looks for

A home inspector performs a comprehensive visual inspection of a property, both inside and out. According to the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) Standard of Practice, professional home inspections include:

  • Structural Components: floors, ceilings, walls, roofs, and foundations, including any attics and crawlspaces
  • Exteriors: cladding, flashings, eaves, soffits, decks and attached structures, walkways, patios, and nearby vegetation
  • Roofing: coverings, skylights, chimneys, drainage systems and any other roofing penetrations and components
  • Plumbing: water supply, drainage and sewage systems, water heating, and fuel storage systems
  • Electrical: equipment, conductors, grounding, fixtures, switches, receptacles, and ground fault protection
  • HVAC: heating equipment, air conditioning systems and distribution systems
  • Interiors: walls, ceilings, floors, stairs, doors, windows, cabinetry, garage doors and major appliances
  • Insulation: exhaust systems, vapor retardants, insulation and ventilation
  • Fireplaces: fireplaces and other fuel-burning stoves, inserts and accessories, plus chimneys and ventilation

As you can see, a great home inspector needs to be a jack-of-all-trades with solid knowledge of all major house systems, not just someone solely with electrical or plumbing experience, for example.

Legal responsibilities of a home inspector

A professional home inspector has a legal responsibility to do thorough inspections that align with industry standards. That means doing your best work on each and every job following the standards of practice laid out by your state’s laws, if your state regulates home inspectors. In addition, you may choose to adhere to either ASHI’s Standard of Practice or that of International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI), which may exceed your state’s official standards.

It’s also important to note that home inspectors may be liable for damages if they don’t live up to this legal responsibility. For example, if you miss a major problem with a rotting staircase, the buyer could sue you for their replacement costs if it’s clear you dropped the ball during the inspection.

This possibility is part of running a home inspection company, and you’ll need to protect yourself with the right insurance. General liability insurance is always a good idea if you plan to open your own company, while Errors and Omissions (E&O) insurance can provide protection against specific claims that you’ve overlooked something important.

Finally, states and professional organizations often expect home inspectors to adhere to a code of ethics in their work. For example, ASHI also has a Code of Ethics that requires the following:

  • Avoid conflicts of interest, including repairing properties you’ve inspected and inspecting properties you have a financial stake in
  • Act in good faith, including maintaining confidentiality and objectivity in reporting problems
  • Behave with honesty and integrity

Some states have “duty to warn” laws, which codify these ethics and help protect the public. For example, if you find something truly dangerous, such as a carbon monoxide leak, you would have to report the issue to the homeowner, even if it’s the buyer who has hired you to complete the inspection.

Training for a new home inspector

First, many states require a high school diploma or a GED equivalent for home inspectors, particularly if they must be licensed. Though this may not seem relevant in such a hands-on field, home inspectors do need to write inspection reports that are easy to understand and error-free. They should also have solid verbal communication and math skills to work with customers and conduct business successfully. For these reasons, a solid education leading to a diploma can be quite helpful.

Beyond a high school education, you’ll need significant knowledge of construction and building practices to become a professional home inspector. This is often gained by experience, whether on the job in various construction disciplines or through years of practice learning about your own home and its systems. It’s very helpful to have a good foundation in architecture, construction, carpentry, or even home improvement and real estate so that you know how buildings are put together.

But even the most seasoned construction pro will need some continuing education to prepare to become a certified or licensed home inspector. That’s because you will need a deep understanding of all components of an inspection as well as your state’s particular rules and regulations.

Fortunately, specific training is available to help you prepare. To begin, it’s best to review the requirements for home inspectors in your state. Each state has different regulations, and you should make sure that your coursework fulfills the requirements in your state before you sign up. For example, states like New York, Massachusetts, and Texas require 75 to 100 hours of classroom training, while other states allow online coursework and testing.

To check your state’s requirements, check out this map and links to local rules.

Online home inspection courses

Online learning is convenient because it lets you complete coursework when it’s suitable for you — ideal when you’re already working full- or part-time. There are many options available, but check to see if your state accepts them before signing up. Some highly-rated online home inspector courses include:

  • InterNACHI: Online classes are free for members and available to non-members for a fee. Courses cover various home systems, safety issues, and more, and it’s easy to search for courses by state and topic.
  • ASHI: A 60-hour online course covers all ASHI Standard of Practice and allows you to finish the work any time within a year of your start date. ASHI also offers in-depth training through a variety of courses at the ASHI School.
  • AHIT: Training is available in 48 states and includes options for online or live classes. Online classes include Go-Pro video footage of real inspections and National Home Inspector Exam (NHIE) books in states that require them.
  • ICA: Online courses include lots of videos led by instructors who walk through home inspections step by step. Live classes are also available.
  • ATI: Online courses come with a NHIE test pass guarantee, and they’ll credit the online cost to a live course for further study.

In-person home inspection courses

If your state requires in-person classroom hours to become a licensed or certified home inspector, or if you prefer more hands-on learning, there are also plenty of live options for your education.

It’s always a good idea to start with your state’s licensing board to find instructors and courses that will meet your state’s requirements. You can find quick links to each state’s full requirements here.

If your state doesn’t provide a list of approved schools and/or instructors, the organizations listed above also offer in-person education in many regions. Just be sure to check that the courses are accepted in your state before signing up.

Finally, many states require mentorship with a licensed home inspector before you can be approved for practice. This typically means completing a number of inspections as an apprentice under your mentor’s license. Click here to find an inspector near you to get started. It’s always a good idea to grow your connections in the field for help understanding regulations and advice on starting your own home inspection company.

Becoming a licensed home inspector

Once you’ve completed your home inspection coursework and any on-the-job training required by your state, it’s time to complete the licensure process. Again, this varies by state, so it’s crucial to check the requirements where you live. Many states will ask for a record of your coursework via a transcript, diploma, or certificate of completion, so be sure to collect and file this paperwork when you receive it.

Many states also require you to pass a test to prove your knowledge of key home inspection areas. The most common test is the National Home Inspector Exam (NHIE), which is used in 35 states for licensure. You may find it helpful to purchase an exam preparation book (if you didn’t receive one as part of your coursework) and try some NHIE practice quizzes online. When you’re ready, you can register for the exam online and take it at a testing center near you.

If your state requires a different test, be sure to read up on its content and specific requirements so you are well prepared the day of the exam. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it’s absolutely critical to check your state’s requirements!

In states that regulate home inspectors, getting a license is the key to beginning a successful career. Licensure benefits the public because they know they’re getting an inspector who is trustworthy and fully qualified. Licensure also shows that you have done your homework and are a true professional.

Once you have your license, your state may require continuing education. This typically means taking a certain number of hours of classes to renew your license. Refer back to the list of online course options to find continuing ed courses that interest you. You may want to sharpen standard skills or add new certifications like termite inspections, radon testing, and more.

Licensure vs. certification: What’s the difference?

In the world of home inspection, it’s easy to get confused about the difference between a licensed home inspector and a certified home inspector. These terms are thrown around a lot, but they may have different meanings — surprise! — depending on which state you live in.

In the states that regulate home inspectors, licensure means that you have the credentials required by the state to practice legally. Getting your license often means completing specific coursework and passing an exam to prove your skills.

Certification, on the other hand, usually means that you’ve met the standards of a third-party — not a government agency. This is typically a seal of approval from a professional organization, and it can be great to add to your resume and marketing.

For example, both ASHI and InterNACHI have their own certifications. ASHI-certified home inspectors must pass both the NHIE and complete 250 inspections. InterNACHI also offers a Certified Professional Inspector (CPI) credential to members who complete coursework and commit to ongoing education. You may consider applying for these certifications as part of your continuing education and as a way to network with like-minded professionals in the field.

Getting your home inspection company off to a good start 

Once you’ve earned your license and/or certifications, you’re ready to inspect homes! Of course, you’ll also need to make sure you have everything you need to run an effective business. Additional business coursework in accounting and entrepreneurship may help you in this regard, especially if you plan to open up your own shop.

It’s also important to develop systems to keep yourself organized and make sure your paperwork is accurate and complete. Investing in home inspection software can make life a lot easier when it comes to writing reports and helping you streamline your business so you have a professional product to share with real estate agents and home buyers.

Looking for more great ideas to build your home inspection business? We’ve got plenty! From building a professional home inspection website to creating a dynamite inspection report template, HomeGauge is always happy to help.

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