April, 2004
Feature
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



Are Home Inspections in South Africa's Future?

STEPHEN M. GLADSTONE

So I wandered through Johannesburg Airport, amazed that I was there. Looking for a driver with a placard with my name on it, I wondered if I had brought enough summer clothes. After leaving a foot of snow in Connecticut, I was anxious to soak up the African warm weather – 85˚ the day I arrived – and hoped to have time for some sightseeing. South Africa has summer now, but its seasons rarely see cool weather. The population is about 44.8 million. While the apartheid policies are gone, the new democracy is only in its tenth year and it is a radically changing country.   

Why was I there? Inspection Training Associates had been invited by the Home Inspectors of South Africa to present an overview of home inspections and training opportunities. This new group was trying to develop a profession where none exists. While the Johannesburg area has many beautiful homes and a thriving real estate industry, it seems consumer protection for buyers of existing homes is nonexistent.

Gated communities of 3,000-5,000 square foot houses are typical. The homes I visited in these communities were exquisite. I also visited smaller homes in more rural areas and some commercial buildings. In contrast, there were horrific conditions noted in the sprawl of shanty cities like Soweto and other areas where the very poor live. The obvious difference between those with money and those without was shocking. Almost every intersection was dotted with vendors selling everything from local fruit to electronics and perfume.

With new homes, the government warrants repair needs through a special builders program but, for the most part, buyers of existing homes are told the home is “voetstoots” (pronounced footstoots) or “as is,” as we know it. Apparently, many buyers simply pay the asking price and assume the home is fine. They believe they have neither protection, nor any ally in the sales process, beyond the real estate agent. As in the United States, most buyers do not know how to inspect the house they’re buying.

After 30 years of growth in the United States, the home inspection profession has made great inroads in offering consumer protection to clients as a result of careful, thorough, professional home inspections and optional environmental testing often performed at the time of the inspection. What has become common practice in the United States, often on the recommendation of real estate practitioners and attorneys, simply does not exist in South Africa.

So here I am in Joberg, the Republic of South Africa, looking at a mix of homes, predominately made of brick, concrete and mortar and looking at the same kind of damages, contractor shortcomings, maintenance and safety needs we see in the states, and wondering why a home inspection profession has not blossomed out of this need.

As I met with local groups and governmental agencies, and spoke to electricians and builders, they were all intrigued with the simplicity of the concept, and the opportunities available with training that could be developed for them. Not one felt the concept was anything other than a great idea.

Because ITA was asked to develop this training, I focused on types of construction, materials used, typical problems of that construction, and how those entering the home inspection field can be trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of deterioration and needs typical of South African construction.

Masonry issues, roofing concerns, safety and maintenance, and hot weather quickly jumped to the forefront, but it became apparent water intrusion, mold and mildew “damp” concerns also should be on the list.

I kept thinking how most of what is needed is exactly what home inspectors deal with daily in the United States, with some minor tweaking.

So now the hardest part begins. As we power up a curriculum for them to follow in class and slides of what to watch for, they must pique the interest of the consumer. They must create demand for this same moneysaving, peace of mind creating service that we have found to be financially lucrative here in the states.

Inspectors can certainly be trained, but South Africa must cultivate and create a culture in which whenever a property changes hands, home inspection is the subject that comes to mind. This will require a massive partnering with real estate professionals, government, consumer groups and the media. ASHI also can play its role as the profession grows.

It will be interesting to watch the progress over the next few months. In the meantime, we have much to do. I like the idea of visiting more of this unique country. As ASHI president, I see the potential growth of an industry that can mean more international memberships as new inspectors take on this challenge. I do believe professional home inspection will ultimately spread ’round the globe. Stay tuned for more.