My Short Career as a Home Inspector

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Several times a week, I get emails from the Texas Real Estate Inspectors Association offering various continuing education courses at convenient locations. I haven’t bothered to unsubscribe to these missives. Sometimes it’s just easier to hit the delete key. Besides, it serves as a reminder of my ill-fated attempt to change careers in late middle age, when it looked like this newspaper gig wasn’t panning out anymore.

Two-and-a-half years ago, I was unemployed and loath to move from Longview, since my Beautiful Mystery Companion had a good job as a professor and our daughter was happy in school. We bought a lovely house, and I set about figuring out how to make a living. The few hundred bucks I was bringing in freelancing monthly was not going to suffice, long-term.

Like most homebuyers, I engaged the services of a real estate inspector to go over the house during the option period. The inspector was gregarious, thorough and a spry 71-year-old fellow, who crawled around the attic and up on the roof like someone half his age. After doing a little research I called him a few weeks later and asked if I could tag along on a few inspections.

This is it, I decided. I will get my professional real estate inspector’s license and hang out a shingle, work for myself. My new mentor assured me that there was plenty of room in the area for another inspector, and that I could make a decent living at it. So I signed up for an online course and began accompanying him on inspections to learn the trade.

He taught me a lot during those summer months, when we would belly crawl under a pier-and-beam house, making sure the floor joists weren’t rotted, and there were no leaking water pipes. I learned how to check electrical outlets to make sure they were grounded properly, to measure the depth of insulation in stifling attics, where my nifty laser temperature gauge indicated it was 140 degrees. I climbed up on second-story roofs to check the flashing along chimneys.

We always started early because of the heat, and I was usually home just after lunch. He generally only did one inspection a day in the summer. A composition shingle roof in mid-afternoon will burn your hand if you touch it. So when I got home, I usually jumped in the swimming pool, grabbed a sandwich and then started studying.

And studying. And studying some more. The real estate inspector’s test, everyone said, is a tough one to pass. One has to memorize a plethora of the International Residence Code, such as the distance required between a electrical line and a driveway  (12 feet), where ground-fault-interrupted circuits are required (anywhere near water, essentially), and how far a fireplace mantle must be from the hearth (I can’t remember that one anymore.)

I didn’t study as hard in college to earn either my bachelor’s degree in English, philosophy and history, or my master’s in journalism. For a middle-aged guy coming from an utterly different background, this was like learning a foreign language. And learn it I did, easily passing the online tests that comprised the first requirement to being allowed to take the state test. I was feeling a bit cocky until I took a couple of practice tests I bought from the real estate inspection school. I made a 45 on the first one, and a 55 on the second. Hoo boy. A minimum of 70 is required to pass the state test. I enrolled on weekends in an inspector boot camp, spending 12-hour days having the code drilled into me.

Finally I took the state test, desperate to beat a pending change in the regulations that would require me to pass both a state and a national code test. I was going to be lucky to pass the state test without having to learn the national IRC. The result flashed on the screen as soon as I hit “finish.” I made an 86. All I had to do now was pay the licensing fee, get liability business, put up a website (garyinspects.com) and get some business cards. Then I would make the round of realtors, which is where most referrals come.

I failed miserably in attracting clients. It turns out there were a number of out-of-town inspectors who were underpricing the local inspectors, who were all more established – and experienced – than me. In the first four months, I performed three paying jobs.

As usual, everything worked out. Kilgore College hired me to teach journalism, which I did for a year and enjoyed thoroughly. Then, unexpectedly, the latest newspaper gig became available and suddenly I was back in my chosen profession. I have put my license on hiatus, which means I could take some continuing education hours and pay the insurance and be back in the home inspecting business.

I doubt that will ever happen, but I have learned to never say never. After all, I didn’t expect to ever get back to running a community newspaper. But I’m grateful it happened.

It beats climbing into attics during the dog days of August. At least most days.

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