DEAR BARRY: I am an active-duty service member, currently stationed in California. After my discharge, I would like to start my own home inspection business and was hoping you could offer some advice to someone entering this field. –Joseph

DEAR JOSEPH: Thank you for your service to our country.

The first thing to keep in mind if you become a home inspector is "liability." Homebuyers will base a major purchase decision on your findings. They will rely on your expertise to inform them of conditions that could affect the safety of occupants and the costs of ownership. Your job will be to ensure that they find no adverse surprises after the close of escrow.

If you miss any defects in the course of an inspection (and every home inspector misses defects, especially new home inspectors), the buyers may call you after the close of escrow, expecting you to pay for the undisclosed problems. If you’re lucky, the missed items will not be very costly — perhaps a few hundred dollars. But there is always the possibility of missing a major defect, such as a foundation problem, a failed heating and air conditioning system, a major ground drainage problem, or a significant roofing issue.

Those are the times when home inspectors ask themselves, "Why did I go into this business?"

Now that you’ve read the big warning to all aspiring home inspectors, we can proceed with advice on how to become one — assuming that I haven’t changed your mind yet.

Step No. 1 is enroll in an introductory course with a reputable home inspection school such as Casey, O’Malley Associates or American Home Inspectors Training Institute. This will provide you with the basics needed to get started.

Step No. 2 is to join a local chapter of a recognized home inspector association such as the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) or a state association such as the California Real Estate Inspection Association (CREIA). The monthly educational meetings and the annual education conventions provided by these association are essential to maintaining a level of professionalism as an inspector.

Step No. 3 is to find some experienced home inspectors who will take you on a few home inspections for some first-hand exposure to see how it is done. From this you will learn inspection procedures, as well as ways to explain the findings of an inspection to homebuyers and their agents.

Step No. 4 is to become as knowledgeable as possible about residential building codes. If your local community college has courses in the codes, be sure to enroll. You should also obtain copies of Code Check, available online from Casey and O’Malley. This is the best summary version of building codes available anywhere.

Home inspection can be a rewarding career or a treacherous one, depending on how well prepared you are when you enter the business and how much you continue to educate yourself once you are in the business. Best wishes for success in your civilian career.

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