August, 2010
From the ASHI President.
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



Commercial Building Inspections

DAVID TAMNY

In an effort to survive and thrive in today’s economy, many home inspectors are diversifying their businesses. Last month, I wrote about the opportunity to become an FHA 203K consultant. This month, I would like to talk about commercial building inspections.

While the emphasis for ASHI members typically is the single family home, many inspect commercial buildings as well. For me, this has been a major source of inspections this year. I was first exposed to commercial inspections when I took a class offered by ITA in 1994. At that time, I didn’t have the experience to do commercial building inspections, but it always was in the back of my mind. Over the years, opportunities to inspect smaller buildings would surface when a home inspection client who owned a business would buy a building. Naturally, he would give me a call to see if I was interested in inspecting it.

Commercial buildings come in many shapes and sizes, and each inspection can be quite different in scope. Light commercial probably would be where most home inspectors are going to get their start. This could be anything from a small office building to a retail store or multi-unit apartment building.

Eventually, you may find yourself inspecting larger buildings such as pre-engineered metal buildings, smaller shopping centers and office buildings. Although there is some course material on doing commercial building inspections, when compared to home inspections, there is not a lot of training material out there. Carson Dunlop currently offers a very good commercial inspection course. An inspector will have to become familiar with flat-roof systems, three-phase electric power, a multitude of HVAC systems and different types of structural systems. This will take some self-study and the ability to learn about the unfamiliar.

The most accepted standard for what are called Property Condition Assessments, or PCAs, is ASTM 2018-08. This standard is not a one-size-fits-all, and a PCA is not always what the client wants nor does it make sense for smaller projects. The most important thing is to come to a defined understanding of what type of service you are providing for your clients. Not all clients have the same needs.

As an architect, doing commercial buildings was a natural fit for my business, although home inspections still are my bread and butter. There is little competition out there for the smaller commercial buildings. Most home inspectors are not comfortable with them, and they are too small for the professional engineering firms that specialize in large-scale acquisitions. The fees are generally higher than for home inspections, and one or two a month can add significantly to your bottom line. Like anything new, it will take some commitment to learning the unfamiliar and acquiring new skills, but the reward is a new source of business income.