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In a Nutshell: Many homebuyers see a home inspection as a necessary step toward finalizing a mortgage. While that may be true in many cases, hiring the right inspector can mean the difference between buying the home of your dreams or settling into a 30-year nightmare. The nonprofit American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) created the first standards of practice for home inspections in 1976. Those standards have been adopted by many states and organizations today. An inspector must complete rigorous training, pass examinations, and complete a checklist of required accomplishments before becoming ASHI-certified. More than 3,400 inspectors are currently ASHI-certified with over 4,000 more working toward completing the requirements.
One of the biggest decisions I made when I purchased my home didn’t deal with finding the right neighborhood or the perfect-sized yard, but rather picking the right home inspector.
After all, the perfect school district or a gorgeous old oak out front can be a lot less attractive when you’re faced with an unexpected five-figure repair bill before you even move your couch into the living room.
Homebuyers have many options when shopping for an inspector. Various certification acronyms can make anyone carrying a hammer look official to the uninitiated. After extensive research, it became obvious that any inspector I chose had to be ASHI-certified.
The nonprofit American Society of Home Inspectors was established in 1976 and created the first standards of practice that cover what a home inspector can and cannot do. Many states and organizations have adopted the standards as the main criteria for conducting home inspections nationwide.
“Before ASHI, people did home inspections but they didn’t know they were doing them,” said Frank Lesh, Executive Director of ASHI. “Typically, they were construction workers or engineers or architects who knew stuff but weren’t full-time inspectors. It was no different than bringing your uncle who knows a lot about cars to the dealership to look over a car for you. There was no standard for practice.”
Today, there are more than 3,500 ASHI Certified Inspectors (ACI) and 4,000 more working toward their credentials. Inspectors who have passed ASHI’s rigorous certification process are considered to be among the top in their field and conduct inspections that are thorough and free of bias.
While many think an inspection’s main purpose is checking the condition of a home’s roof and walls, an ASHI inspection has a far greater scope. Inspectors look closely at everything from sidewalks and driveways to drainage and plumbing. My inspector went so far as to find a small breakage in the plastic framing around a window in a bedroom that the seller had to fix before closing.
But Frank said that inspectors can only do so much while in a home.
“Sometimes, people have an unrealistic expectation of what a home inspector can do,” he said. “We can’t see behind walls. We can’t tear things apart and look for hidden issues. We have to work within the confines of the standards, which means we are guests in somebody else’s home. We cannot break things. We can turn things on and off, but we can’t tear into them.”
Frank said that inspections are important — and, in many cases, required to apply for certain types of mortgages — because they can help you uncover hidden expenses before you close on a home. Some homebuyers may not be able to afford necessary repairs after saving for a large down payment. A proper inspection can begin a conversation toward managing those potential costs.
“Some of those repair costs may be offset by the seller,” he said. “If the roof truly is bad, maybe the existing owners won’t buy you a brand new roof, but they may give you something toward a new roof or other repairs. At the very least, inspections make you aware of what’s coming up.”
A Strict Certification Process Guarantees Quality Inspections
Getting ASHI certified isn’t about showing that you can complete a competent home inspection. The reason there are more inspectors working toward their certification than there are actual certified inspectors is simple — the process is long and very detailed.
Candidates start out as associates and must meet a set of requirements that include acquiring a passing grade on the National Home Inspectors Examination before applying for final certification. The proctored exam does not allow notes or open books and is authored in a psychometric fashion, with difficult multiple choice questions designed to truly test what the applicant knows.
“This isn’t about a lot of people sitting down and coming up with a bunch of questions and multiple-choice answers,” Frank said. “This test is very difficult and very strenuous.”
Among the 4,000 associates working toward their certification, Frank said that many have already passed the examination and are working to meet other requirements, including having performed a minimum number of inspections.
“You don’t have to be an ACI to give a good inspection,” he said. “A lot of our inspectors are really good at what they do, but they just need to finish the extra qualifications.”
Inspectors Must Follow ASHI’s Strict Code of Ethics
ASHI guidelines require every certified instructor to look at their time on the job as if they are a guest in their customer’s home. That’s one facet of the code of ethics the organization has set for its inspectors.
“We created the first code of ethics on what an inspector should and should not do,” Frank said. “The main point we stress is that an ASHI inspector may not do repairs on any home he or she has inspected for a year.”
Removing themselves from any potential repairs eliminates any incentive an inspector may have to exaggerate problems in a home. For example, if you build decks for a living and also complete inspections, you are not allowed to work on the deck of any home you’ve inspected for one full year after the inspection is completed and filed.
The code of ethics, along with the strict guidelines for certification, are in place to give homebuyers peace of mind when going through the inspection process — which often comes after contracts have been signed and the buyers have their hearts set on a property.
Certifications are different from state licenses, which normally have more relaxed requirements and are easier to obtain.
“If you’ve ever known anyone who has gotten a bad haircut, they probably got it from a barber that’s licensed through their state,” Frank said. “It’s a basic low level of entry. With ASHI, our goal is to elevate every inspector and show them that it makes sense to excel in their profession.”
Inspections Aren’t Just for Homebuyers
Most homeowners think of inspections as a one-time deal that happens when you’re in the market for a new home. Frank stressed that the nominal fee inspectors charge make the process worthwhile long after you’ve closed on the property.
“Think of it as having a maintenance inspection every few years,” he said. “The problem is that a house does not have a check engine light. An ASHI inspector can go through your house with you and show you things that you may not be aware of.”
Those things, often small in nature, can become expensive if they aren’t properly addressed.
“I’ve seen many repairs that are small and cheap now, but get really expensive later if not fixed in time,” Frank said.