Below is an interview with Charles (Charlie) Bellefontaine with Chicagoland Home Inspectors. He shares the good and the bad about the home inspection business.
What do you do for a living?
I am a professional home inspector. I inspect residential and commercial properties for a potential buyers (most of the time). I take a systematic approach to find, and document defects about a property that would affect a typical home buyer’s decision.
How would you describe what you do?
We go through and evaluate all of the major systems and components like: roof, structure, heating & cooling units, plumbing, electrical and other built-in components. Then we create a detailed written inspection report with photos and descriptions of the defects we find. Within the report we also note descriptions of components (e.g., structure type – masonry, etc.) but the potential buyer is usually most interested in the defects found.
What does your work entail?
It is very interesting because we spend about 50% of the time looking at the exterior and 50% of the time inside poking around. Most people working indoors long to work outside while those that work outside want to be inside where it’s cool (or heated). Human nature is funny, we always want what we don’t have. The building inspector gets to “have it all” so to speak.
What’s a typical work week like?
If all goes according to plan, we would have a full schedule each day filled with inspections. An inspector can evaluate a maximum of about 10,000 square feet per day so in the case of a larger building, you would inspect over multiple days or get help from another inspector if you work for a larger company. Often the schedule is not completely full so inspectors get a fair amount of free time (unpaid) between jobs.
How did you get started?
I got started back in the olden days (1988) just after dinosaurs stopped roaming the earth. At that time, little to no formal training existed so we learned by doing. Today classroom, correspondence, and online training exists to learn the details about how to inspect. It did help that my background was in architecture/engineering.
What do you like about what you do?
I already stated that we have the perfect mix of working indoors versus outdoors. Also, we are helping potential buyers make a smart choice about whether to buy a property or not. At times we discover serious safety defects that can hurt or even kill people so theoretically you could say that we help to prevent tragedies and in that way benefit humankind in a major way.
What do you dislike?
At the time I am writing this it is about 112 degrees Fahrenheit outside so that whole message above about the virtues of working outside mainly applies to the spring and fall seasons. Also, people get really upset when you miss something important during an inspection and can even sue you. Complaints are very gut wrenching and so is writing big checks to fix something you missed.
How do you make money/or how are you compensated?
Most of the time we charge by the square footage of the building and may add to the fee if the building is old or if the client would like us to also inspect for termites (we need to have a separate license to inspect for termites).
How much money do Commercial Inspectors make?
I believe the majority of individual inspectors make between $50,000 and $100,000 per year, however, it is possible to exceed $100,000 per year if you have marketing skills, hire someone with exceptional marketing skills, or work for a successful multi-inspector firm.
How much money did/do you make starting out?
When I started it was a side business while I worked full-time at a local major employer so I likely lost money on the venture. Back in 1988 an inspection was not commonly thought of when buying property like it is today. Therefore my early years have no reference point to today. If you started today you could likely make $25,000 to $50,000 in the early years.
What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?
It is very beneficial to have education and/or background in architecture, engineering or construction. Most inspectors get started by obtaining a home inspectors license (if available in your state). Following that, commercial inspection courses are available from private providers.
What is most challenging about what you do?
The challenging parts can vary widely. Sometimes it is hard to determine how you are going to get on a roof. Other times it is hard to get a nervous buyer to understand which report findings are critical versus the comments that are less important. At all times, it is challenging to keep learning a little more each day about the profession.
What is most rewarding?
It is very rewarding to get appreciative comments from clients after the inspection and then have them give recommendations for your work. It is also a thrill to find obscure defects that exist in a building that no one has discovered, not even the municipal building inspector who approved the building at the time of construction. That is cool and makes you feel like an expert detective, ready to change your name to Sherlock.
What advice would you offer someone considering this career?
Become an expert at home inspections and then transition into the commercial inspection field. Go to seminars in your area provided by ASHI (the American Society of Home Inspectors) and check it out. The inspectors at those meetings are open and willing to share their experiences. Also, ask if you can go on a ride-along with one of the inspectors you meet (offer to carry their ladder and help out) to see if the profession seems right for you.
How much time off do you get/take?
This business can rise and fall with the real estate market so at times you can have much more time off than you would like. It seems like a “feast or famine” type career. Once established though, it is a really flexible and enjoyable mix of on and off time.
What is a common misconception people have about what you do?
That we are super-human and can find EVERYTHING wrong with the building. Oh, people also think we can predict the future better than we really can.
What are your goals/dreams for the future?
The inspection business has only been in existence as a profession since about 1976, therefore, it is still very young. I would like to see inspections performed on virtually every real estate transaction and double my business within 10 years or less.
What else would you like people to know about your job/career?
It is very important in this career to keep learning. Inspectors never really “arrive” at fully knowing everything about the profession. If you like to read fiction, you will need to stop and learn to love reading technical information. One final critical note – inspectors must become expert (and I mean expert) technical report writers. If you suck at report writing, it won’t matter how good you are at inspecting. To see examples of home and commercial inspection reports, go to our website at www.azinspect.com.