Reuben's Home Inspection Blog

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Training Advice For Future Minnesota Home Inspectors

About two to three times a month, I get a call or email from someone who is interested in becoming a home inspector.

"What kind of training is required to be a home inspector in Minnesota?  What type of background is required to be a home inspector?  Are you hiring?"

I always call people back to chat about this business and give the long answers to all of these questions; there is no such thing as licensing for home inspectors in Minnesota, so there is no 'right' answer to these questions.  I'm happy to share my time chatting about this stuff, but I end up giving different suggestions every time.  Like so many other frequently asked questions, I've found it's nice to have a document already put together to direct people to for a well-thought out answer, not just the first stuff that comes to my mind.

To do this, I asked several successful ASHI Certified Inspectors in the Twin Cities area about their background, and what advice they would give to anyone who is interested in this profession.   I appreciated hearing their advice, and I hope you do too.

Fred Comb, Home Inspections of Minnesota

Fred CombMe: When did you start your business?

Fred: I began inspecting homes in 1990.  Being a fourth generation building contractor, many friends called me for advice and asked me to look at houses they were thinking of buying.  Expanding my construction business into home inspections seemed to be a natural progression.

Me: How did you get your phone to start ringing?

Fred: I began at a time when we had this thing called a phone book, so I thought having an ad in the phone book would help, it didn’t.  I tracked a few calls to my yellow page ad, but not many.  Most of my business came by way of referrals from friends or face-to-face meeting/networking with Realtors.  It was slow going for many years, but as referrals increased so did the business.

Me: Thank goodness phone books are gone.  How long did it take to start doing home inspections full time, and what did you do in the meantime?

Fred: Thankfully I was in the construction business, which supported my family.  I quickly discovered that performing home inspections required considerable technical expertise that was far beyond what I knew as a contractor.  I devoted about 5 years time and energy into educating myself about the home inspection industry before I was comfortable inspecting homes for paid clients.  It took another 5 years before it became a full-time business.

Me: What kind of training, formal and informal, did you go through before your first home inspection?

Fred: I read books and technical journals that taught electrical, plumbing, heating, architecture, structural support, cold climate weatherization and more.  I went to the library and read building codes.  I traveled and attended weekend-long intensive seminars taught by experts in their field.  I joined multiple national organizations including the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) which held both national and local monthly seminars.

Me: What kind of training would you recommend someone have before doing their first home inspection?

Fred: The list is long and goes far beyond the basic “house” knowledge; inspectors need good business, legal and writing abilities.  I highly recommend joining a national home inspector organization such as ASHI, which has online learning opportunities.  In MN, we have local inspector organizations including ASHI, NAHI and MSHI that offer low cost classroom style monthly seminars.  I also recommend getting to know local inspectors, someone you can call when you have a question, someone you can ride along with and watch as they perform an inspection.  When the time is right, test your skills by taking the National Home Inspectors Exam.

Pat Cullen, 1st Step Home Inspection Services

Pat CullenMe: When did you start your business?

Pat: 2007

Me: How did you get your phone to start ringing?

Pat: It took a long time, mostly word of mouth, family and friends mostly, and my website.

Me: How long did it take to start doing home inspections full time?

Pat: Two years  

Me: What did you do in the meantime?

Pat: I did home inspections for another company, approximately 1,800 with their understanding that I would be going out on my own in a few years. I already had my training prior to working with them.

Me: What kind of training, formal and informal, did you go through before your first home inspection?

Pat: At that time I had about 20 yrs in the building industry, Penn Foster Inspector training, ASHI certification.

Me: What kind of training would you recommend someone have before doing their first home inspection?

Pat: Formal and ASHI inspection training and as many ride-a-long's as they can get.

Barry Eliason, Private Eye Home Inspections & Moisture Testing

Barry EliasonMe: When did you start your business?

Barry: Back in the early 80s I studied pre-architecture at the U of M and then architectural drafting at the St Paul TVI. I took a two week class at TVI in Home Energy Auditing and after passing the test became a certified energy auditor. This allowed me to do home energy audits as a sub contractor with NSP (now Xcel Energy).

By about 1986 the energy audit demand was dropping and I started looking for something else to do. Someone suggested that I look into the Truth in Housing programs of St Paul and Mpls since I was already inspecting many of the home components of a TISH inspection while doing my energy audits. I didn’t know much about plumbing, electrical, structural or building codes however, so I bought all the code books for each trade and started to study. At that time there was no place that offered training classes for home inspectors that I knew of.

Me: How did you get your phone to start ringing?

Barry: I had some business cards printed up and started going to real estate offices to promote my services.  I got a couple neighborhood agents to start using me and slowly expanded my business.  It wasn’t long before some of my TISH customers started asking me to inspect the houses they were buying and I had no idea how to begin.  

Me: How long did it take to start doing home inspections full time?

Barry: I still wasn’t able to make inspections much more than a part time job, so I called around and got offered a job as an independent contractor with one of the few large home inspection companies in town. There I got more hands on training. After a few years I left there and started my own company.

I wasn’t able to get inspections to be much more than about ¾ time work for the first 10 years or so, but that was OK because I was also very active in the parenting of my three children at that time. About the time the kids were getting through school I introduced moisture testing services to the Twin Cities area and with that additional work I was finally fully employed.

Me: What kind of training, formal and informal, did you go through before your first home inspection?

Barry: I flew out to Virginia to attend an ASHI seminar called “Back to the Basics” that covered what a buyers inspection should include.  Along the line I have gone to countless seminars and home inspector conventions, always learning more.  I sometimes regret not having had much formal education in home inspections, but think that in the end I know more than anyone who has only taken a two week class.

Me: What kind of training would you recommend someone have before doing their first home inspection?

Barry: If I had it to do over again I would take the Building Inspection Technology classes on becoming a Certified Building Official.  Although home inspections are not code inspections, there is a great deal of overlap.  This would be a great credential, and there are also more jobs available working for the various cities as a building inspector if a person didn’t want to go out on their own.  Very few home inspection companies hire employee inspectors because they struggle to just keep themselves busy.

Roger Hankey, Hankey & Brown Inspections

Roger HankeyMe: When did you start your business?

Roger: In 1975, the Minneapolis City Council adopted a Truth in Sale of Housing ordinance which called for housing evaluations to be done on property listed for sale. The ordinance set up an examination and licensing program for private evaluators. I took the first test for this program, passed, took training offered by the city and joined the first group of evaluators in December of 1975.

Me: How did you get your phone to start ringing?

Roger:  REALTORS® and home sellers were directly affected by this new requirement, and I quickly became aware of the need to explain the program to real estate agents listing properties in Minneapolis. I spent many Tuesday mornings speaking at real estate offices around the Twin Cities, doing slide shows on what the program required and what the evaluators checked. I also began working with my partner Cheryll Brown and helped train her to conduct all types of home inspections.

I obtained a license to do energy audits in 1980, and went out to the real estate community and explained the features of this statewide program.  The energy audit program exposed me to the suburban market and the potential to do home inspections for buyers. In 1982 I became the first inspector in Minnesota to be a full member of the American Society of Home Inspectors. (ASHI)

Over the years, we have spent a great deal of time marketing home inspections through our participation in ASHI® including taking leadership position in the local chapter and on the ASHI Board of Directors. In recent years, my marketing efforts have focused largely on contacts with previous customers and developing a website with extensive content on home inspection and maintenance topics.

Our training included 10 annual ASHI conferences, dozens of ASHI chapter seminars, annual attendance at the Institute for Building Code officials, and Building Inspection Technology classes at Inver Hills and North Hennepin Community College.

Me: What kind of training would you recommend someone have before doing their first home inspection?

Roger:  The home inspection business seems easy to enter, but in reality, unless you have had years of experience and training in multiple building trades, you probably do not have the experience base to succeed on your own. The best path is probably to work under the guidance of an experienced inspector. Unfortunately the current state of the real estate market has greatly reduced the demand for home inspections and most established inspectors do not have enough work for themselves, let alone take on a trainee. For those who wish to try, the Building Inspection Technology classes at community colleges provide a good base of information on building codes. Keep in mind that private home inspectors are not code inspectors, and an important area of training is field experiences found only while conducting inspections of existing houses.

Neil Saltzman, Structure Tech

Neil SaltzmanMe: Hey pops, when did you start your business?

Neil: I started doing home inspections in 1990.

Me: How did you get your phone to start ringing?

Neil: I joined a network group and wore two hats: construction and home inspections.  I started literature drops at real estate offices and gave presentations at these offices when I could, but it wasn't easy to get in front of these groups. 

Me: How long did it take to start doing home inspections full time?

Neil: I think it took at least 3 years to get it to the point of doing it full time.  In the meantime I was doing construction.

Me: What kind of training, formal and informal, did you go through before your first home inspection?

Neil: My informal training was doing construction for over twenty years.  My formal training was attending a number of Building Inspection Technology classes at the community college.  I also passed the ICBO Building Inspector exam. 

Me: What kind of training would you recommend someone have before doing their first home inspection?

Neil: The best training is to be mentored by a seasoned inspector.  In the building trades,  you were an apprentice first.  You just hung out doing the grunt work - carrying, digging, lifting, doing the demolition, etc.  Then, depending on the trade,  you might have been handed a tool to use.  Working alongside of the craftsman, you learned by watching and listening.   Then  after many years,  you were able to do it on your own.   I think this is ideal.  

Unfortunately, the majority of the people who enter and then quickly leave this business are the people who want to transition from a dead-end business to a model in which a training school is advertising huge rewards and money in the home inspection business.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Summary

The responses I received were similar; personally, I'm a big fan of the community college classes mentioned by Barry, Roger, and Neil.  If you're in Minnesota and you're interested in getting in to the home inspection business, I believe the two key components of your training should be education through Building Inspection Technology (BIT) classes and training with a veteran home inspector.

Building Inspection Technology

Building Inspection Technology classes are offered through North Hennepin Community College and Inver Hills Community College.  These classes are focused on teaching someone how to work in building code enforcement; it's not the same thing as home inspections, but provides a solid foundation for an education in home inspections.  These classes are mostly taught at night or online as a part-time gig by Minnesota State Certified Building Officials.  I've taken about fifteen of these classes over the years, and I've found the instructors to be top-notch; they're great teachers, they're incredibly knowledgeable, and most of them make the classes interesting.

You can see a full list of the classes offered here -  BIT classes.   A few of the first classes to take would be Introduction to Building Inspection, Foundations of Construction Codes and Inspections, Field Inspection, Mechanical Inspection, Electrical Inspection, Plumbing Code, and Housing Field Inspection Fundamentals.

On-Site Training

Every home inspector agrees; there is no substitute for on-site home inspection training.  If you want to be a home inspector, you need to learn the business from another home inspector.  Pairing up with a veteran home inspector is the only way to do this.  A good mentor will teach etiquette, procedure, safety, report writing... and plenty of other aspects of the business.

What about home inspection schools?

I'm not a huge fan, and I don't know any seasoned home inspector who is.  In 2004 I attended a home inspection school from a company that claims to have the industry's "best home inspector training".  I found it to be very... blah.   The focus of the class seemed to be on teaching new home inspectors how to produce an inspection report that wouldn't get them sued.  I wasn't impressed.  I have nothing against home inspection schools... but they should be considered a very small portion of the total education required to be a home inspector.

The bottom line is that if you want to be a competent home inspector, there is no magic pill.  You'll need to invest a lot of time in learning.

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections

        

Comment balloon 20 commentsReuben Saltzman • February 14 2012 06:16AM

Comments

Hi Reuben,

A lot of time is right. There are right around 4,500 home inspectors who go into and out of business each and every year.

The lack of experience is the key factor. Then comes the pricing of your goods. Then promotion of yourself.

There is a lot more to owning a home inspection company than anyone really could understand.

But look at us we are still here and still kicking. I Bet we have done something right over the years.

All my best, Clint McKie

Posted by Clint Mckie, Desert Sun Home, Comm. Inspection 1-575-706-5586 (Desert Sun Home, commercial Inspections) over 6 years ago

Clint - Do you have any idea what the failure rate for this industry is?  I've heard it's somewhere around 90% in two years, but I can't remember where I heard that, so I'm not sure if it's an accurate number.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 6 years ago

Great blog and great job. Keep up the good work. Good luck to you this year. Thanks. 

Posted by JOSH EVANS *JoshEvansHomes 516-655-5000 (Village Properties of Mineola, LLC) over 6 years ago

I have heard that failure rate is 85% Reubs.  But I have heard...

I liked all the interviews.  Been there, for sure! 

Oh, and my kids call me Pops too.  Come to think of it, I had a parakeet with a white head I called Pops.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

Josh - thanks, you too.

Jay - 85%, 90%... either way, it's very high.  I'm sure the biggest reason for failure is lack of planning; this isn't a business where someone can just take a two week course and start earning money.  It takes a long time!  

Pops is a great name :)

 

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 6 years ago

I have been doing this since 2001. Wow, where has the time gone? All the stories have portions that ring true for me. This would be a great blog to share with any one thinking of getting into the inspection business. 

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 6 years ago

Like your dad, the last time I grew a beard, starting simply by not shaving while in the hospital for a couple of weeks caring for my wife after one of her hideous surgeries, it came out really gray.  I thought it made me look really old!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

Interesting post! There is no such thing as overnight success in any field, but a lot of people think there is an easy way to achieve success. I enjoyed reading this.

Posted by Peggy Chirico, REALTOR® 860-748-8900, Hartford & Tolland County Real Estate (Prudential CT Realty) over 6 years ago

Great post. Interesting and informative. People really should think about who they end up hiring. The results can be dramatically different!

Posted by Dee Nofziger, Maumee Real Estate, Toledo Homes, Key Realty (|Key Realty | Maumee Toledo Real Estate Blog) over 6 years ago

I believe that as many inspectors (Percentage wise) fall out as do Realtors.

Posted by Randi Brammer, Accountant & Tax Preparer (Randi Brammer, Acctg.) over 6 years ago

I thought about tryiing to become certified, but the time and knowledge needed was beyond what I could do well.

Posted by Vern Eaton, Realtor 651-674-7449 over 6 years ago

Reuben, I, with qualifications, agree with you about inspection schools.  Given that I teach at one I would only add that it is not schools, in and of themselves that are the problem, as much as the fact that the programs to date are not long enough.  Anything less than a year of full time education is most likely not going to be adequate.  That said, a month long class can give the future inspector enough of an "information hit" to help them decide if it is even something they want to do.  Obviously the education goes on a lifetime. 

We just became a licensed state and in the process of licensing a lot of old timers had to take the education portion of our class due to missing grandfathering deadlines.  I would hate to think that these inspectors would be "qualified" to mentor another future inspector---let alone perform inspections.  Currently the state of knowledge is all over the place and---very inconsistent from inspector to inspector.  I find it a very interesting dichotomy that inspectors cry out as to how much it takes to be a home inspector, all the while holding to the myth that all that is "necessary" is to perform to the Standard's of Practice.

Most inspectors are being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century in terms of what is necessary to provide the best information to the consumer as well as meet the expectations of a better educated buying public.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 6 years ago

Very interesting.  I am in a state the requires license and I am thankful for that.  I also believe that education is important and I always enjoy an inspector that spent time in the building field.

Posted by Jo Olson, HOMEFRONT Realty @ LAKE Roosevelt - Stevens County (HOMEFRONT Realty) over 6 years ago

My neighbor did the training, bought the "package", and I think did 2 inspections before giving up. I'm dealing with inspectors like him more than I like...

Posted by The Derrick Team - Indy Metro Realtors, Your Pet Friendly Realtors (Carpenter Realtors) over 6 years ago

Congrats on the feature! It is good to know the background and training processes for an inspector before suggesting several to a client. Thanks for sharing and have a great week.

Posted by Laurie Clark CRB Angel Realty LLC Your Monument Realtor 719-502-6572, Angel Realty, LLC (CRB-CCSS-ASD-HBS-RSD-Denver Short Sale Agents) over 6 years ago

James - thanks, I plan to start giving this link out whenever I get inquiries about getting in to this business.

Jay - that's about how I grew a beard, or whatever you call that hair on my face.  Just a lazy week.  I thought it made me look older too; that's why I kept it ;)

Peggy - thanks.  You definitely get the point.

Dee - absolutely.  There's quite difference in the quality of work from inspector to inspector... same thing with your profession.

Randi - yeah, I'm sure you're right.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 6 years ago

Vern - yeah, it's definitely a lot of work.

Charles - I didn't know you taught at an inspection school, I thought it was just continuing ed for home inspectors?  I completely agree with you.  I have nothing against schools, I just get irritated at the idea of being able to attend a one week / two week / three week course and be ready to go.

You have a great point about the dichotomy of what home inspectors claim makes a great inspection.  They not only claim that sticking to the standards alone in neccessary, but they often act as though this is the gold standard that should never be deviated from.

Jo - If the licensing requirements are strict enough, I'm sure they help the industry.

Connie & Dennis - lol, I can imagine.  I've done a number of inspections for people that have already gone through an inspection school but decided it just wasn't for them.

Laurie - thanks, you too.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 6 years ago

I had never though about the failure rate for Home Inspectors before. Here in Nevada we have to go to 132 hours of schooling. The teacher mentioned that only about 25% of the people that took the class actually went into business. Good post anyways. It's nice to see you actually call people back. That is a rare thing these days.

Posted by Rob Ernst, Reno, NV-775-410-4286 Inspector & Energy Auditor (Certified Structure Inspector) over 6 years ago

Great of you to give them such advice. I get calls weekly too asking about staging, if I am hiring or will mentor. That is why I finally started my Home Stager Training Courses. Maybe you should have your own classes too??

Posted by Shar Sitter, Home Staging and Redesign Minneapolis/ St. Paul, M (Rooms With Style) over 6 years ago

Robert - 25% is a higher number than I would have guessed.  I wonder how many are still in business after two years?

Shar - I've taken a number of potential future home inspectors along on inspections with me; I teach them anything I can.  I'd much rather be competing with home inspectors who do high quality work and raise the bar for our profession than a bunch of hacks that charge 25% less than I do.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 6 years ago

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