Worth A Closer Look
By PATRICK CALLANManagement
Are there opportunities for mechanical contractors in home inspection?
The Canadian home inspection industry is such a confusing landscape that even a seasoned cartographer might get tripped up trying to map it out. Provincial regulations vary from coast to coast and only two jurisdictions – British Columbia and Alberta – require home inspectors to be licensed, albeit with much different processes of accreditation. Ontario is moving towards licensing, but discussion is still in the early stages.
In addition, the CSA is working on defining a national standard about what a home inspection is; yet it still begs the question of who can become a home inspector. With that in mind, HPAC magazine decided to ask industry experts if they see any opportunities for mechanical contractors to take up home inspection as a secondary job.
Graham Clarke, vice-president of engineering at Carson Dunlop, answered with a resounding yes. “Absolutely I do. They can be quite successful,” he says. “Most outfits are just one guy working on his own and that well may be a good fit for somebody who is looking for a secondary career.”
Since many home inspectors come from trades or consulting backgrounds, Clarke says they will probably have most of the larger expenses already covered – an insured vehicle, a computer and a registered corporate name. And the remaining costs would not be too burdensome.
“You could easily outfit yourself to be a home inspector, tool-wise, for under $2,000,” he says. “The tools, by and large, are not all that fancy. A home inspector is typically going to carry a ladder, a flashlight, a bunch of screwdrivers and a moisture meter.”
You will also need insurance for the business – something Clarke strongly recommends, which costs about $3,000 per year. As for inspection reports, one could spend anywhere from $500 to $2,000 to get set up in the first year, according to Clarke. The last remaining major expense would be education at community college – about $5,000 – to acquire the full breadth of skills needed to inspect homes.
Many community colleges offer home inspection as continuing education programs that can be done in your spare time on evenings and weekends. Toronto’s Humber College offers a three-semester, nine-course certificate program that combines classroom, online and field study. New Westminster, BC’s Douglas College, in partnership with Carson Dunlop and Associates, also offers a three-semester, 10-course home inspection program with similar learning options. These are just a couple of examples. A quick Google search and you will find dozens more across Canada.
Graham says schooling is not only necessary to learn all the skills involved with home inspection, it also helps you see your own trade in a different light.
“One of the things I’ve found is that even people who are used to working in a specific technical field still need some training in that particular area because there’s a slightly different mindset involved in doing inspections versus doing contracting work,” he says.
Once you become a home inspector, the charge for a typical inspection starts at $400-$500 per house and it can go up from there, often based on the size and age of the house. Most full-timers will inspect about two homes per day, but you have to keep in mind the seasonal nature of the job, says Clarke.
“There are a lot more houses being bought and sold in the spring real estate market than there is at Christmas time,” he says.
However, not all experts are receptive to the idea of fair weather home inspectors. Some, such as Blaine Swan, national president of the Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors (CAHPI), say it must be a full-time job.
“Part-timers and consumer protection don’t go together,” he says. “I won’t say part-timers don’t exist, because they do. They’re in and out all the time. They jump in, they go for easy certification, usually online, find out what they’re up against and they usually don’t last long.”
Swan estimates that startup costs would be in the ballpark of about $40,000 and once you are in business, it will cost about $30,000 per year to run it.
For Swan, learning all the tricks of the home inspection trade is not as easy as it seems. He says most home inspectors, himself included, come from some kind of background in construction, but you have to learn to be a generalist. That is something he had to learn – even in the trade he was certified in and knew more about than most people – plus he had to take additional training in the areas he did not have.
“Most HVAC guys that I know of know about moving air around. That’s a very small component,” he says.
He warns that part-time home inspectors may not keep up to date with things like changes and recalls in other trades. And he adds that at least in Ontario, where licensing is being kicked around, all those in the industry will eventually have to certify.
“They’re going to have to apply for a licence and do the things that licensing requires.”
THE MOVE TOWARDS LICENSING
Both Swan and Clarke are part of a 15-member panel organized by the Ontario Ministry of Consumer Services which is looking at introducing licensing for home inspectors in the province. The panel for the “Home Inspector Qualifications Project” is made up of home inspectors, consumer advocates, educators and related sectors such as real estate, law and insurance.
The panel met every second week from the end of August through November, and will now write a recommendations report for the government focusing on four themes: technical, professional, consumer protection and governance.
Clarke says right now, anybody in Ontario can call themself a home inspector.
“You could conceivably go online, take a multiple choice test and in an hour you will have a certificate,” he says. “It’s an unregulated field – at the moment.”
The earliest we might see licensing in Ontario is still a year away, he says, and what that will look like is not clear yet. But it probably won’t look the same as Alberta or BC, who have specific regulations yet issue licenses in much different ways, he adds.
WHAT LIES AHEAD?
With so many moving parts in Canadian home inspection there really is no clear-cut answer as to what opportunities lay ahead as the industry attempts to organize itself in one way or another.
Depending on who you talk to, there may or may not be a window of opportunity for mechanical contractors to learn a few new skills and start up a secondary business on the side.
Clarke says if you enjoy working with people and if you are willing to spend the time and money to learn the necessary skills, it could a very rewarding job and excellent extra source of income.
“For people who have that technical aptitude, enjoy houses, and enjoy working and communicating with other people, I think it’s a good fit,” said Clarke.
But then again there are many, like Swan, who strongly oppose the idea of part-timer home inspectors and argue that it is ultimately the customers who suffer. “It’s a profession,” he says. “It’s not a secondary job cutting meat at the local grocery store.
Clearly the jury is still out. In the mean time, what do you think? <>
The CSA to develop a national standard for home inspections
The CSA is also involved in setting a standard for the home inspection industry, however, it will define the parameters of the physical inspection itself, not who can and cannot call themselves a home inspector.
At the moment, a volu
ntary technical committee led by the CSA and made up of a balanced mix of stakeholders is working on writing a standard for home inspections – CSA A770.
“This standard would not apply to qualification or certification of individuals conducting home inspection,” said Dwayne Torrey, project manager with CSA Group. What it would do is establish consistency in how home inspections are carried out nationally.
Torrey says based on preliminary discussions, it is anticipated that some provincial and territorial jurisdictions are considering adopting the standard, but it will be up to them to determine to what extent they reference the document since all CSA standards are only voluntary. The standard is targeted for completion in 2015.
CAHPI revises National Occupational Standard for home property inspectors
The Canadian Association of Home Property Inspectors (CAHPI) has updated the National Occupation Standard (NOS) for home property inspectors. The 2013 version is designed to reflect current realities of the profession and provide additional guidance on performance standards, learning requirements and personal attributes. The revision came after a yearlong evaluation of the 2008 NOS by industry professionals. The 2013 NOS is the third edition of the standard, which was first published in 2001. The occupational standard describes the skill, knowledge and abilities required to perform the duties as a professional home property inspector. It forms the basis for training, curriculum development, accreditation of training programs, recruitment, performance improvement and the certification of practitioners. www.cahpi.ca
Licensing laws in western Canada
BC first introduced licensing in 2009. The Consumer Protection BC identifies four associations to assess the qualifications for home inspectors: Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of British Columbia, Canadian Association of Home & Property Inspectors (BC), Canadian National Association of Certified Home Inspectors and National Home Inspector Certification Council.
Alberta followed suit in September 2011, but went in a different direction that allows for two paths to becoming a home inspector. The first requires providing proof of education – degree, diploma or certificate – from an approved educational institution and then completing a test inspection supervised by an approved educational institution or a licensed home inspector holding a Certified Master Inspector (CMI) designation or a Registered Home Inspector (RHI) designation. The second is to get an approved home inspection designation or licence from approved industry associations or regulatory bodies. (Complete lists of institutions and associations can found on Service Alberta’s website: www.servicealberta.ca.)