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California Home Inspections - Don't Be Fooled!

by Brian R. Sumpter of First Call Home Inspections

I have received a number of calls and letters asking about California Home Inspectors, specifically regarding licensing and pricing.

This may be a bit rambling, but I really want to offer a complete explanation of the licensing issues within the State of California as I understand it and why hiring a home inspector is one of the best and most logical decisions you should make.

There are a number of states that license the home inspection profession and they do so by a variety of methods. The most common are the following:

  • Direct Licensing, The state will require the home inspection candidate to pass a proctored exam. This will show the state that the individual has a basis of knowledge.
  • Specific number of hours of training from an accredited school and/or verifiable construction industry background
  • Maintain Errors and Omissions Insurance and often General Liability as well.
  • Belong to a nationally recognized Home Inspector Association (not all states possess the requirement, and there are very good associations as well as very bad ones in my not so humble opinion)
  • Have a specific number of fee-based inspections with the inspector's reports evaluated and monitored by above mentioned association or other third parties for consistency and accurate narratives or descriptions

Licensing of home inspectors only sets a minimum standard. Much like being up to code, any less would be illegal in those states that have specific licensing requirements.

In California, there are NO home inspector licensing requirements! Anyone that decided one day to become a home inspector can basically just hand out business cards and prospect for work. You will find however that this profession often "cleans” itself eventually of these individuals. They simply go out of business before they can do much damage. Unfortunately, clients and referring parties pay the price by having home inspections performed by unqualified, untrained and unethical "inspectors” that rarely operate with the clients best interest in mind. They do not typically know of the RESPA and LEKO acts that agents and brokers operate in business with.

The state of California loosely regulates my profession by sections 7196.2 - 7197 and 7197.5 of the Business and Professions Code, relating to home inspections. There was also pending legislation with Assembly Bill 293 that would have added to this code. The State has now turned that into a completely different bill!

That being said; California will still suffer from the incompetent home inspectors that work within our state unless and until we convince our government to enforce actual licensing. This occurred a few years ago in Texas, and is occurring right now in other states.

Very often, the first question I get when I answer my office line is "how much do you charge?” Alow me to give you some better questions that will empower you to make a better selection:

  1. First, ask if they are full-time, professional home inspectors. You will find quite a few inspectors who only do a couple of inspections a month to pay their weekend fuel bill, or some other nonsense. I work seven days a week doing nothing but home inspections.

  2. Ask them if they maintain a business license.

  3. Ask them what kind of insurance they carry. In this industry, they should at least be carrying errors and omissions insurance and general liability insurance. That insurance is very expensive and usually is not affordable for the part-time home inspector. My company also is bonded. The General Liability and my Bond are there to protect and help with the property owner’s peace of mind. I also have a hold harmless agreement for the agents and brokers protection.

  4. Ask if they are a member of any home inspection trade associations. Membership in trade associations is expensive and requires home inspectors to obtain annual continuing education, also expensive. I am a firm believer in trade associations.

Once you have the answers to those questions you will have a good sense of what price they will be charging.

If you find extremely low prices, just be cautious. There are home inspectors who charge $99 and occasionally have $79 specials. They probably are not the home inspector you want.

You are spending a lot of money buying very expensive California real estate. Is your home inspection really something that you want the lowest price on? Will you get what you paid for? Do you really want to trust one of the largest investments you will ever make with a part time home inspector, or worse...a number of do it yourself papers that put you on a mailing list?

I hope this helps somewhat in your search for information. I believe you will agree that as part of the overall investment in any property, a professional home inspection is vital and often the least costly peace of mind your client finds as well as a good disclosure tool for your use should you be considering a pre-listing inspection.

I look at over a thousand components in the systems of a home, and report on the issues that many would not even think about. For the cost involved, it is a very inexpensive way to get a clear picture of the property. My reports are concise, and while they are thorough I am not an alarmist.

Home inspectors are contracted by a variety of clients. Remote investors of property that need to be certain that their investment is being maintained, people with a home warranty that is soon to expire. Sellers look to us to aid in disclosure, and buyers of older and newly constructed homes find our services invaluable. Remember, a home may be perfect for you, but no home (of any age) is perfect. I have inspected homes built in the very early 1900's and homes built in 2006 and they always have a challenge or two to face.

Brian R. Sumpter is the owner of First Call Home Inspections based in Martinez, CA. He is a member of the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors (NACHI) and performs California home inspections in the greater San Francisco area including Alameda, Solano, Contra Costa, and Santa Clara counties.

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