Since a home is one of the most important investments a consumer can make, the value of a home is one of the most important asset measurements a consumer can have.
It’s the role of a home inspector to make sure that the house’s value is appraised, and that the structure of the home meets requirements at local, state, and federal levels. Course Instructor for GREEN and Middle Tennessee Home Inspector Tim Hicks does such work with his business, Clear Inspections.
Having served the army by joining Fort Hood, TX’s 1st Cavalry Division, Hick’s interest in task-related details grew into something he could use in the civilian world. That need to know even miniscule bits of information translated to over 7,000 home inspections over a period of 15 years, and the ability to “see everything, all at once” aids in filling out a complete for the client. GREEN’s interview with Tim is below.
GREEN: What is “home inspection?” How do you define it? What general processes does it entail?
Tim Hicks (TH): “A thorough examination of a home or business to find and detail deficiencies that affect the structure and safety of the home or building.” That’s how I would define it and [that is] very similar to the definitions you would fine on the internet.
The processes used to perform an inspection require inspecting and operating and testing all functional components that are found in each home, entering the crawl spaces and attic and often walking the roof. Once all necessary data is gathered, then [it entails] preparing and completing the report. Then delivering to the client and being available to answer any questions.
GREEN: Clear Inspections has an inspection checklist of items on the website. Let’s discuss a few of the more important items, and how missing those can dramatically impact a home-buyers experience with the property. What are the typical “red flags” that you look for in the various categories of the checklist?
TH: I don’t think I check and inspect items differently than most home inspectors. A checklist is meant as a guide and to remind you of items still to inspect if present. Missing or not inspecting any of those items that a home or business has could have a dramatic impact either financially to a buyer or from a safety standpoint.
Water and or stains from leaks and moisture intrusion are red flags with most categories. Any type of building material deterioration.
GREEN: Your website says that you like to spend extra time with the client? What does that mean specifically? What’s the average time another home inspector might spend with a client versus the amount of time you spend with them? And how long should a typical home inspection (referring to the general process) take with a typical home?
TH: The home dictates everything. The time it takes and how you go about achieving your objective. The common answer is two to four hours. Experience, system and practices and knowing how to properly employ those are where you keep and or save time.
GREEN: Are consumers capable of doing such a home inspection themselves? What’s the difference “of a trained eye” here?
TH: As a whole they are not. Knowledge, skill level and emotion are the main reasons. There is so much that goes into a professional home inspection and the knowledge required that prevents even licensed general contractors from being able to perform and report accurately on the findings.
GREEN: What wisdom can you offer in terms of pricing such services? How does one “shop smart” when looking to purchase the services of a home inspector? And when shopping for a home inspector, what qualities should the inspector possess ? Should people look for credential certifications offered by organizations like the American Society of Home Inspectors? Should such organizations be trusted? Or is there a better mechanism for vetting home inspectors?
TH: Pretty much follows the same line as pricing any other service-related industry. The cheapest will almost always save you money in the front end but when it comes to a home inspection something overlooked could cost thousands or lead to injury or worse. To pick the best home inspector for your needs, I would heed your realtor’s advice. And if you’re researching yourself, I would put the greatest weight on experience and background. Certifications are great and definitely help but some are too easily gained and/ or paid for. The American Society of Home Inspectors is the most trusted and established credentialing body for Home Inspectors. You have to have performed “X” amount of inspections before you can even apply and you must take and pass a national exam and your reports are reviewed to make sure you know what you’re doing and how to report your findings.
GREEN: You’ve inspected some homes that are 150 years old. Is there a “breakdown” in what to look for by the age of a home? Are there any noteworthy trends that you’ve noticed in doing this that are correlated with certain types of homes?
TH: Building materials hold up and last only so long. The rate and even how they fail based on age is significant. Knowing this and how that can affect other items and systems is very important. Take the electrical system for example. Materials and wires used are different from one time period to another and can be a safety hazard based off of age alone. How they were installed and how other materials are installed that come into contact with the electrical system ̶ all have a huge impact on performance and safety.
GREEN: Can neighboring properties have an effect on the house being inspected?
TH: They certainly can. Most often from a grading and water control standpoint.
GREEN: What inspections (if any) do you offer for the property external to the actual structure of the home?
TH: We offer environmental testing for radon and mold. We also offer thermal imaging of the building or home.
GREEN: You do gas detections? What kind of gases are you looking for when you do an inspection? What dangers do these gases possess?
TH: Carbon monoxide detection with homes that use gas and of course gas leaks. The dangers from these are pretty straightforward. The kind you do not come back from.
GREEN: What about insects and animals? How can they impact the structural integrity of a home?
TH: They can and will destroy a home if left undetected and treated. A home inspector is not a pest contractor. We look for damage from these animals or insects but we are not looking for those and may not be able to identify the insect accurately if found.
GREEN: Are there issues in home inspection that vary from state-to-state, such as certain laws and regulations that have to be enforced? If that’s the case, can you provide some general examples of what those might be for readers to better understand the differences in each state?
TH: There are things that are required based off the climate or region and there are requirements for components and homes based off of where they are in relation to the coast and or fault lines. An example would be securing water heaters in areas where earthquakes are possible. Different heating systems are utilized in colder climates and the knowledge needed to inspect these items.
GREEN: In your line of work, do you ever get complaints from any of the personnel you engage like realtors, sellers, buyers, etc? If so, how would you describe these complaints? And how do you deal with them?
TH: True complaints, very, very rare. We are humans trying to do a perfect job and if we should not meet the expectations of those we serve, we take ownership and make it right. Everyone makes mistakes but the difference lies in being willing and able to correct those mistakes.
We do get questions from our clients from time to time about an item they discovered after moving in. Ninety-nine percent of those are items that were discussed in the inspection report. There is a lot of information within a good inspection report and homeowners who do not deal with inspection reports daily may not retain each bit of information. We take time to listen to their concerns and questions and will work with them to help them understand every part of the systems and components within their home. Sometimes they may find or discover something that was not noted or found. We are very diligent in our processes but we still cannot see behind walls or in between floors or through insulation. In these cases we explain why or how this item was not discoverable.
All complaints from a client deal with the home. Most issues discussed with realtors have to do with processes and procedures. Caring about your customer and the job you do will take care of most instances before it can become a problem. Communication is the key to so many things in business and life. To communicate effectively, you have to listen first. This is the most non-scientific approach to implement to reduce and eliminate issues before they arise. That’s true for both the referral source and the customer.
For further information about Tim Hicks and his home inspection business, be sure to visit the Clear Inspections website. More information about home inspections may also be found through Tim’s GREEN course.