Search the internet and you can find a raft of questions to ask a home inspector. Many will have a variety of questions, usually involving cost, expertise, experience, and availability. Quite a few have a question along the lines of “Do you participate in continuing education programs?”
It is an okay question that I have never had a client ask me. Why is it only an okay question? Because it is a straight yes-or-no. Let me give you a better question.
What changes have you made to your inspections or reports because of continuing education?
The difference between the two is dramatic. In the first case, the inspector either has or has not done continuing education. In the State of Washington, the answer should always be yes, they have. It is mandated that home inspectors complete 24 hours of continuing education ever licensing cycle. What isn’t mandated is taking classes that expand the inspector’s knowledge. The individual inspector can literally and legally take exactly the same classes each cycle and get credit for it.
By moving past the CE question to discuss how that has changed the inspector’s process and reporting, you can get a reasonable idea of whether that inspector actually applies the new knowledge on behalf of his customers. More than a canned response about how long they’ve done inspections or what contracting work they used to do, this question cuts to the heart of their expertise and professionalism.
A good inspector is likely to do far more than the minimum in continuing education. As an example, I’m taking the 12th of July off to attend a training seminar put on by Washington State University on the latest changes in the Washington Residential Energy Code. This class won’t count for CE’s since it isn’t approved, but I will learn a wealth of good information and some of that will find its way into my reports.
Likewise, when I went to Seattle in March for the Western Washington chapter of ASHI seminar that had course approvals that counted toward my total, I picked up a wealth of new information. Not all of it is immediately useful, but it does inform me of potential issues to be aware of so that I can provide good advice.
I make two trips per year to western Washington specifically for the seminars. I take my computer with me so I can make changes to my report structure while the information is fresh. Since I take continuing education seriously, it impacts my business very directly.
“Describe any deficiencies of these systems or components.”
Since we do have continuing education requirements in Washington State, every inspectors reports ideally should be evolving. The quote above, taken right from the Washington State Standard of Practice for Home Inspections, means that as the inspector learns new things, it should be reported. Be leery of any inspector who is still doing reports the same way as they did five or ten years ago. Either they are not applying the knowledge they have acquired or they aren't actually committed to continuing education as self-improvement.
How do you verify?
Ask your agent who’s reports have changed the most over the last five years. They see the reports on a regular basis. In this region where we have small communities, they should be able to answer that question about the inspectors they are referring.