June, 2014
Feature
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



A Historic Look at Home Inspection

CARL FOWLER

Entering the way-back machine, we turn the dials and return to the beginning days of home inspection, circa 1977-1985. Back then, everybody was a newbie, worried about coming up with adequate disclaimers and formulating a check-list with which to do inspections. From the completed checklist, the information garnered was then most often transcribed via a typewriter or one of the early word processors, into a narrative report. Some inspectors just turned over their handwritten checklist as the final report, but given the poor quality of handwriting done in the midst of an inspection, the report was often unreadable. There was much room for improvement.

It wasn’t until the ASHI conference in Houston in 1986 that Jules Samitz, of Delaware Valley Home Inspect, unveiled a software program that his son, a Bell Labs engineer, had created for his dad to use when inspecting. As I recall, the initial cost was $4000 with a $500 a day training charge and the kicker was that you had to buy a HP computer running a particular version of DOS (Disk Operating System). DOS was an early operating system that was specific to each computer and was about at the end of its usefulness by that time.

The first commercially available software was 3D Inspection Systems. Started in 1986, it was the outgrowth of an inspector being overwhelmed with work and realizing life was going to be short if he didn’t find a quicker way to produce reports. That inspector was me, and having seen the presentations at ASHI Houston, I returned home with a new mission to have some software written, hopefully at a price that was far less than was being asked.

6 months and $6000 later, I still had nothing and no prospect for a solution… desperation was the word of the day for another 6 months, but during that time, I met a smart 15 year old kid skilled with computers and programming. The first day, he produced more than I had accomplished in a year. In 6 months I had my software program, written for DOS, that ran my forms and worked great on a standard desktop computer (which is all we had back then). My life thus spared from burnout, I took one of the reports to show at a Chapter meeting, where it was well received. Clients actually liked computerized reports and gave them greater belief than the laborious handwritten ones, which was initially a surprise to me.

In the 1980’s, any photos were by special request, and with the task of having the film developed came the numbering and referencing of each photo. By the early 90s, digital cameras began to show up and by 1995, Kodak had released the DC 40, a camera good enough to actually use commercially. It was rated at .38 megapixels, and frankly, compared to todays photos, they looked pretty bad! But it was digital and it soon became possible to impress clients and Realtors by including a few photos in the report. This resulted in improved communication between all parties, made for a more useful service, and resulted in setting the stage for increased inspection fees over the next few years.

In the early 1990’s, Barry Prentice, an ASHI inspector in Colorado, wrote the first pen-based inspection software, named “System 2000”, which was used exclusively by the Inspectech Corporation, a group of about 100 inspectors located mostly west of the Mississippi. In 1998, the company was sold to LandAmerica, and then sold to Buyers Protection Group (BPG) in 2009. I understand Barry still supports a few inspectors using a modified version of the original Inspectech product.

Other inspection software products began to appear in the mid 1990’s. Among the more successful were Borealis, Porter Valley, Palm-Tech and Homegauge . Each began to exhibit regularly at ASHI Inspectionworld, and the market for software became more competitive. As software languages continued to develop and internet use rose in the years following, a number of “software as a service” (SaaS) ventures were launched, many on a pay-as-you-report basis. Some were better quality than others and many of the early ventures have since folded, due to difficulty in keeping an internet signal during the writing of the report, by user interfaces that are difficult to use, or due to lack of users and a reliable revenue base.

The Mid 2000s brought us connected services like RecallChek, alarm leads programs, web based scheduling, and Internet based radon reporting. Each of these services integrates with a variety of inspection software programs so that using or selling additional services is just a matter of a few more clicks to send the client and inspection info you desire to the necessary party. And within the last few years, the options on the internet for the way you inspect and report have exploded. Every major software company has an app that can be used on a mobile device to collect data and eventually produce a report. Each vendor does it a little differently and has different user interfaces, but all are internet centric, and the productivity gains that are being seen by inspectors means the trend towards connectivity in everything you do is going to continue for the foreseeable future. Some of the latest software offerings focus on the relationship between inspector and client, by empowering inspectors to offer special discounts or extended consulting services.

Anyone who has been in the inspection business and seen these changes over the years will have their own personal story relating to the phrase “change is difficult”. Adopting new techniques is always difficult, because one’s confidence level declines and it’s necessary to initially go a bit slower. This is hard to commit to when backed-up with work. The second time is always faster than the first, and it’s the repetition of working with a particular product or technique that restores confidence and then allows for a corresponding increase in efficiency, productivity or marketing prowess. Technological change is here to stay and likely accelerating.

So don’t let fears of change deny you the opportunity to discover and use new offerings that can provide you with a competitive advantage. By the way, your competitor is probably reading this article as well.