Sunday, December 2, 2007

Grade Your Home Inspector

How would you grade your Home Inspector?
When making what is likely the biggest investment of your life (a home purchase), it is a wise thing to hire a home inspector. In some states, this is even required by law as a routine part of any real estate transaction. Idaho has no such requirement… leaving the decision to inspect a home as merely an “option” to both parties in the transaction. Not very long ago, there were no Home Inspectors at all, as the Home Inspection industry is a fairly new phenomenon. So, you are about to buy (or sell) a home and you decide to hire a home inspector. How do you find a good one? The right one for you? You could ask your Real Estate Agent for a referral as most people do. This is generally a really bad idea, and is discussed in detail at
The internet is your best resource to find the home inspector who’s right for you. Go to any search engine (Google, Yahoo, etc…) and type the words “xxxxxxx home inspector”… just replace the “x’s” with the name of the major city nearby. Pick 3 or 4 and compare them. And keep in mind, that just because an inspector comes in as the #1 entry does not mean he is the best. It merely means that his web site is better optimized… so it is wise to spread out your choices amongst the top 15 or 20 presented to you.
Idaho has no laws or regulations that control who may call themselves a “Home Inspector”. That’s right. The night cook at Denny’s can pick up a clipboard, pick out a name, and then pick your pocket. No experience or education is required. When comparing the web sites… look for experience in construction. Look for engineering backgrounds. Look for education. Also… the Home Inspection industry as a whole is self-governed to a degree by several major trade organizations. These include NACHI ( National Association of Certified Home Inspectors) and ASHI (American Society of Home Inspectors) just to name a few. Make sure that your inspector belongs to at least one of these. The reasons are many… but primarily these organizations have established standard operating procedures and ethical guidelines which their inspectors must follow. They also establish certain education and experience standards which are critically important since the State of Idaho has no standards at all.
Knowledge of building codes is an important part of being a home inspector. These codes exist for a reason… usually as a response to construction issues which went wrong and caused death and/or property destruction. Understanding how all the building systems (Plumbing, Heating, Electrical etc…) are connected and designed to work together to achieve the minimum standards set out in codes and regulations is vital to accuracy when inspecting any building. Your inspector of choice should be real familiar with the International Code Council.
Proper equipment is an important part of home inspections. Do you want the quickest way to tell if your home inspector is truly a professional? Look at his vehicle and the type of ladder he is using. I know of several “Inspectors” who use a small economy car or an XUV and have only a collapsible ladder that will fit inside. So ask yourself… how is he going to inspect your roof with a ladder that collapses? Most (not all) ladders of this type only extend to 21.5 feet and are rarely rated for more than 200 pounds. This would be like hiring a man with a hatchet to cut down a 70 foot Oak tree. As for me: I drive a full length Suburban which is professionally adorned with company logo and identification, and it not only carries all of my tools, test equipment, and reference materials… it also gets 22+ mpg and runs on corn/flex fuel… it also carries my three ladders which range from 8 feet to 30 feet (none are collapsible).
Look for those details that set your inspector out from the rest. Things like his dress. Does he have a uniform or monogrammed shirts, or is he wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt? A necktie is a bad idea… would that guy be willing to climb into an attic or a crawlspace? Likely not. I wear stretch slacks and a monogrammed polo-type shirt for maximum flexibility, with traction shoes for those tough roofs. My uniform is blue and black… just like my Suburban and my web site. Other details: his weight. If he is grossly overweight… how in the world can he negotiate a crawlspace or an attic? He can’t. Also, look for identification. The trade organizations that I described previously (NACHI, ASHI) do issue formal identification tags. These identify a member in good standing. Ask to see his I.D.
What about his pricing? Most inspectors have fairly low prices in order to stay competitive. If so… you should beware. This is the kind of guy who will tack on an extra $25 (or more) for gasoline fees beyond a certain distance. They also tend to charge more for older homes; charge more for larger homes; charge more for outbuildings; and charge a lot more for things like a Radon test. Before you know it, your “real” final bill will be several hundred dollars more than his advertised “base” price. And since I mentioned Radon… many inspectors will conduct a Radon test for a large extra fee. They use the same cheap charcoal canisters that you or I can purchase at Lowe’s. Do they know anything about Radon? Likely not. Ask for their certifications or identification. At the time of this writing, I am the only Home Inspector in all of Idaho who is certified by the National Radon Safety Board.
The inspection itself: How long does it take your inspector to complete? Most will finish in the 2 – 3 hour time frame so they can squeeze in 2 – 3 inspections per day and maximize their income. Rediculous! I will often spend 2 hours in the crawlspace alone! On average… my inspections take about 7½ hours. A professional Home Inspector will take you around your home, not only pointing out defects but also showing you areas that will require future maintenance. He will educate you on where shut offs are located and explain discrepancies that he cited in his report. Whenever you book a home inspection, you should never miss this golden opportunity to learn about the systems and features of your home.
The bottom line is: Choose your own Home Inspector. Grade several of them… then choose the one that’s right for you. When your Inspector arrives… grade him again. It is still not too late to choose someone else. Keep in mind that this is a huge investment you are making, and you should protect your investment by using the best inspector you can find. You are likely spending several hundred thousand dollars… so choosing an Inspector based on price in order to save a hundred bucks is just not smart. You will likely get exactly what you pay for.

Dappy Jones

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Infrared Thermography

I used to conduct home inspections much like anybody else. About nine months ago, a wise person convinced me to dive into hi-technology with every aspect of my business. One of the first things I invested in was a state of the art camera that uses Infrared Thermography (IRT). After $7,000 was invested, then some educational classes conquered, I immediately saw the value of this device. I am absolutely convinced that IRT will be a necessary tool for every home inspector in the near future.
The very first home inspection I conducted while using my IR camera showed a distinct problem that would not, and could not have been identified by any other means, short of physically destroying one wall in the master bedroom. Due to my inexperience with the new IR camera, coupled with the glaring anomaly identified in my viewfinder, I had to go consult my educational tools to confirm what I was seeing was in fact true... and being properly diagnosed by me.
What I saw was one entire wall of the master bedroom had insulation inside this wall... but the insulation only went half way up! And this wall was entirely exposed to the elements... it was not an interior wall. As it turns out, there had been a company come out and blow insulation into this wall which was part of an addition. Either they were in a hurry, or they wanted to scrimp on materials and save some money, or they just didn't know what they were doing.
Either way... the new homeowner was ecstatic about finding this problem. Without IR technology, the existing condition would have remained unnoticed, the master bedroom would have been difficult (and expensive) to heat in the winter, and difficult (and expensive) to cool in the summer. The homeowner showed the hard evidence to the insulation contractor who came back and fixed their mistake without question.
The very next home that I inspected a few days later had a similar problem which also happened to be an addition. Only this time, the contractor who built the addition figured nobody would know once the drywall was installed... so he put up the walls with absolutely no insulation at all! Again... no home inspector would have been able to find this problem without an IR camera.
In the time since those two inspects, I have found numerous problems through the use of my camera. It is able to find conditions conducive to mold & termites; even mice inside of walls. Also, it is a magic tool for identifying areas that cause enormous energy loss. You can see digital photos of some of the uses and problems on my web site at: or
There is no doubt in my mind that as time goes on and this technology becomes less expensive, that it will become a standard tool for every home inspector. The real advantage is it will keep the crooked contractors at bay and in trouble... and the real people who benefit will be the unsuspecting and innocent homeowner.
Dappy Jones

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Hypocrisy

I have learned of a monumental hypocrisy in this industry, and I want to share some of my experiences regarding this. The hypocrisy is this: Home Inspectors work for the Home Buyer who hires them to conduct a thorough and impartial inspection of their prospective new home. Is this what actually happens in reality? Most of the time that answer is a resounding NO! I will be explaining this in greater detail in subsequent posts. For today, I just want to describe an event that happened to me about 2 weeks ago which highlights this problem:

Many real estate firms have something they call a "preferred vendor program". In short, these "preferred vendor programs" provide a structure wherein area real estate firms and their realtors are agreeable to actively promote the home inspection services of only those inspectors who have paid to them some 'participation fees'. Ostensibly these fees are portrayed as a means to help defray the costs they incur to promote home inspectors. Hence, consumers are advised by such materials that brokerage firms and Realtors can offer comprehensive services, including home inspection services, by referring them to some known & "approved" home inspectors. No methodology exists for assessment of a home inspector’s abilities, other than their payment of the 'participation fees'. What this means to you as a consumer is that some realtors may be attempting to steer you towards using a specific home inspection company based upon that inspector's financial contributions towards their office, rather than on an inspectors ability. To an unknowing consumer who views this as a realtor looking out for his/her best interests... in reality, this takes the control of the home inspection process out of the consumer's hands where it rightfully belongs, and encourages "preferred" inspectors to write "soft" reports to ensure that the inspector continues to get future inspection referrals from real estate agents. I view this as a very serious conflict of interest and a breach of ethics.

As an example: at 10:31a.m. on Wedesday, 15 August 2007, I received a phone call from a person who identified themselves as a representative of Cent**y 21. Her opening line was: "Would you like to start getting inspection referrals from Cent**y 21 realtors? I'm not stupid... I said "Of course, that is a silly question". She replied that they have over 400 agents in the Treasure Valley. (There are actually more than 5,000 agents from all agencies in total... so they are roughly 10% of the overall). She said they would gladly place me on their "preferred" list if I would only pay their fees to "participate". I quickly replied that this was a very serious breach of ethics and I would never participate, and asked her to never call me back again. At a single stroke, I took my business out of contention for roughly 10% of the market share of inspections. Cent**y 21 agents will likely never refer me to a client, because I did not pay their "fee" to become listed. What this all means, is that when a Cent**y 21 agent refers an inspector, they are doing so because that inspector paid them to be on their "list". Now, is that inspector working for the homebuyer, or is he really working for the agent? Are the Cent**y 21 agents really referring the very best inspector to their client? No! My dog could get on their list if he only pays their "fee". An inspector with absolutely no training and no experience can easily get on their "preferred" list, if he only pays them for it. How disgusting!

OxBow Home Inspections does not participate in, or promote preferred vendor lists in any way, and encourages you as a consumer to exercise your right to hire the home inspection company of your choice. As long as you are the one paying for the home inspection services, the decision as to which home inspection company inspects your home belongs to you. The vast majority of home inspectors in America receive the bulk of their business in the form of referrals from real estate salespeople. Keeping these salespeople happy has become the primary concern of most (not all) inspectors. Often times this is done at the expense of an unsuspecting home buyer who frequently ends up with a "soft" inspection report, done to avoid angering the inspector's "Gravy Train" (referrals from agents). I have actually been "blacklisted" by several real estate offices, because my reports are so complete, in depth, unbiased, and thorough. The very, very few agents who do refer clients to me, do so because they really and truly care about their clients more than they care about some commission, and they want their client to receive the most comprehensive and honest inspection available. And since 15 August 2007, I am obviously "blacklisted" from Cent**y 21 as well, and that's okay. Common sense and human nature dictate that an inspector who pays his bills, feeds his family, and puts his kids through college based upon the business he generates from marketing to realtors, would be naturally inclined to do what is necessary to continue getting that 'bread & butter'.

Yes, it is true. Most home inspectors spend huge sums of time and money courting Real Estate Agents. Go to any agency office, and you will see numerous flyers, brochures, etc... from Home Inspectors. They take candies and doughnuts and other things to agents, in the hopes of future referrals. Now, when they get a referral from said agent, do you think that they will write a harsh, unbiased, and critical report of the home for the BUYER, when such a report might change the buyers mind, and cost that agent a $15,000 commission fee? Unlikely! Human nature intervenes, and most often the inspector writes "soft".

Mind you... this is not ALL Agents; nor is it ALL Inspectors. But I would estimate it to encompass 90% in each category. Log into any of the nationwide inspector trade organizations (ASHI, NACHI, NAHI, IAMI, etc.) and look at their message boards.... you will find this to be true. There are only 3 inspectors in all of Idaho who have signed a sworn statement that they refuse to market to agents, so they they can give a fair, honest, and impartial report to their client (the home buyer). I am one of those 3.

This is explained a bit more in detail on my web site. Go to, and click on the sentence about: "what makes my services different?"

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Beginning

I have decided to keep a 'blog' as an adjunct to my home inspection business. This blog is my first attempt at this sort of thing, so please do not be too harsh in judging the format or the quality. The important thing I am striving for is content. I am looking for a place to post my thoughts and experiences as they relate to the home inspection adventure. Although I started this business only 10 months ago, I have already seen, heard, and experienced quite a few things that I would like to get down on 'paper' so to speak. Nobody need worry about identity or security, as I will leave my posts void of those details.

Another purpose of this blog is to give other people a chance to voice their thoughts and opinions. It will also provide an easy place for my customers to view what has already been posted, or to post comments of their own.

To a large extent, this blog is inspired by my daughter, and in retrospect, I wish I had started this much sooner in the progression of my business. For those of you that are unfamiliar with my business: that web site can be viewed at