April, 2007

Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors


Great Lakes Shares Peer Review Program with North Carolina

EDITED BY ASHI STAFF

Part One, History and Description of the Peer Review

By David Bunker, ASHI Certified Inspector

This is a three part article on the Peer Review.  In part one, I’ll provide a brief history and description of the Peer Review.  Part two is written by members of North Carolina ASHI and is about their recent initiation of the Peer Review, and Part three is a candid account of one NC-ASHI member’s recent experience with the program.

Many ASHI® members and candidates have never heard of a Peer Review.  I know because when I first joined the Great Lakes Chapter, ASHI (GLC-ASHI) back in the 1990’s I remember seeing references to the Peer Review on each educational seminar brochure, but never paid much attention to it until another member asked if I had ever taken a Peer Review.  I said no, and signed up at the next opportunity, not really knowing what I was ‘in for’ until the day of the review.  What an experience!  Even though I had been inspecting for about eight years, and completed about 2,200 inspections, I quickly learned that I was not nearly at the ‘top of my game’; experienced more in just a few hours than in any previous weekend educational seminar, and, by the way, had a lot more fun by actively participating.  That first Peer Review was more than an educational experience for me.  It got me ‘hooked’ on Chapter activities, and I became a much more active member.  I have since taken several more Peer Reviews and sat on numerous review committees.  I participated on the Education committee, have been on the Board of Directors, have served as a chapter officer, and I am currently the Peer Review Committee Chairperson for GLC-ASHI.  

The Peer Review is first and foremost an educational tool.  It is not a graded test or exam, but a critique of your home inspection knowledge and technique.  It is completely voluntary, and it is discreet – only the reviewing committee and you will know the result.  One inspects a pre-selected and pre-inspected house, and then briefs the peer review committee on the defects found in the house, just as one would for a paying client.  The review provides an evaluation of your inspection ability and knowledge by a team of experienced peers, and in the process you learn much about your strengths and weaknesses.

The GLC-ASHI Peer Review Program began when ASHI National dropped the field inspection requirement for full membership in the society (January 1990 was the last one, and at least two current GLC-ASHI members participated).  Subsequently, the GLC-ASHI leadership, believing that the practical experience gained from inspecting a house under the scrutiny of experienced peers was exceedingly valuable, decided to continue the Peer Review on a voluntary basis.  Thus the birth and the evolution of the Peer Review in this chapter began.
 
In the beginning a candidate would inspect the peer review house, present a report to a committee of three experienced inspectors, and be critiqued on the inspection observations and a general knowledge of inspections.  The standards were high and all major deficiencies needed to be identified.  The reward for a successful review was a Master Inspector pin and a certificate.  Four GLC-ASHI members took the first Peer Review held in Chicago in July, 1990.  Since then the Peer Review has been held on the Friday immediately preceding each of the three annual chapter educational seminars.

Today, there are three levels of the Peer Review; the Educational Review, the Inspector By Review® (IBR), and the Master Inspector By Review® (MIBR).  The last two designations have been registered by GLC-ASHI and as such, cannot be used by any member or entity unless they have successfully completed a certification program administered by GLC-ASHI, or a similar program licensed by GLC-ASHI (see end of article).

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Photo: Review candidates inspecting a house.  Schaumburg, IL July 2006.

The Educational Review is meant primarily for new inspectors who have fewer than 100 inspections.  The member is guided through an inspection of an actual house by senior, experienced home inspectors.  We emphasize the ASHI standards in the inspection, and take the member through all systems in the house in one on one or very small groups.  There is plenty of opportunity for questions and answers.  New inspectors find this to be an excellent learning tool.

The Inspector By Review® is for inspectors with more inspections (we recommend at least 100 inspections and at least one year experience).  There is actually no minimum number of inspections or time as an inspector, but the criteria described is about the minimum for attempting the Inspector By Review®.  During the review the candidate inspects the house, on his / her own, and presents the results to the review committee.  All members of the review committee hold an Inspector By Review® or Master Inspector By Review® certificate.  These inspectors have already inspected the house and agreed on the “major defects” or “must find” items.  The Inspector By Review® candidate must show his / her competency by describing all of the ‘must find’ items, correctly answer 70 percent of 30 general knowledge questions, and demonstrate that he / she inspects and reports in substantial compliance with the ASHI Standards of Practice by having two recently completed home inspection reports reviewed by the committee.  A “pass” will earn the candidate a certificate of achievement and designation as an Inspector by Review®.  

The Master Inspector By Review® is the same procedure as the Inspector By Review®, but to earn the Master Inspector By Review® designation and gold pin, the Master Inspector is required to be a five year member of ASHI and to have contributed substantially to promotion of the industry and chapter.  Active participation includes serving on committees, boards, as a chapter officer, or in some other capacity (chapter or national level).  Active participation in the chapter is also very rewarding and helps further one’s development as an inspector and in the inspection business.

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Photo: Checking exterior electric.  Ypsilanti, MI March 2006

Why the interest in the Peer Review process?  Probably because it represents one of the most exciting and challenging educational experiences most home inspectors will ever encounter.  A ‘Peer Review’ is just that, an evaluation of one’s home inspection skills, abilities and technical knowledge by a committee of other experienced home inspectors, or ones ‘peers’.  Why, you may ask, would you ever want to have a bunch of other inspectors examine your home inspection techniques and knowledge?  Well, one answer is because it is a great way to determine just how good you are (and what shortcomings you may have) in a non-threatening environment without any legal risk!  Also, as I alluded to in the beginning of this article, the review is one very exciting, fun, and challenging educational experience that more senior members can participate in, rather than attend the ‘same old classroom’ instruction that often tends to comprise the majority of our continuing education.  It gives the inspector an opportunity to compare his / her inspection techniques and observation powers against a ‘known entity’ and thus provides a real check of our knowledge, skills, and abilities.  Chapters that provide this type of educational opportunity for their members are providing a challenging experience that may well help with member retention and be a recruiting tool for new members.

The GLC-ASHI Peer Review has recently received attention from several other ASHI® chapters, and the Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors (CAPHI).  This past March several CAPHI members attended a GLC-ASHI Peer Review to pick up details of how the program is run and administered.  Parts of the Review were then incorporated into their National Certification Program.  Although it is a voluntary program, it is CAHPI’s way of distinguishing themselves from the rest of the inspectors in Canada.

One chapter (North Carolina) has sent representatives to the last two GLC-ASHI Peer Reviews, and on December 9, 2006, they conducted their first Peer Review.  I attended as an invited guest, observer and to provide assistance as needed.  I can say that their first review was a resounding success for all concerned from the chapter leadership and committee members to the participants.  Everyone I spoke with expressed their enthusiasm for the program. 

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Part two of this article is written by members of North Carolina ASHI, and will focus on the history of their involvement with the program from the initial stages, to completion of their first Peer Review.

Part Two: “Raising the Bar” in North Carolina

By  Andy Hilton, ASHI Certified Inspector

The member home inspectors of North Carolina ASHI (NC-ASHI) have adopted the motto of “Raising the Bar”.  In doing so we researched ways to better ourselves as home inspectors and to provide our clients with a service that helps them make informed decisions in the home buying process.  As one of our goals, we set out to help all members of NC-ASHI “Raise the Bar” by providing a process by which members could inspect a subject house to test and hone their skills.  A committee would pre-inspect the same house to test the candidates’ findings.  During the investigative process we came across the Great Lakes Chapter of ASHI and found that they had such a program in place, and had been for a number of years.  After some discussions with GLC-ASHI we sent one of our members, John Woodmansee, to observe and bring back more information on the GLC-ASHI Peer Review program.  John came back with an enthusiasm that was infectious to our other committee members.  As part of the process of setting up the Peer Review, we felt it was important for the integrity of the program to send more members to experience the Peer Review as participants and observers.  Bill Dillon and I observed the process from the point of a Peer Review Committee member, and another, Marion Peeples attended the Peer Review as a candidate.  The experience of attending and the knowledge gained was invaluable as the Great Lakes Chapter basically has the program down to a “science”.  The experience of attending the GLC-ASHI Peer Review set the wheels in motion to set up the program here in North Carolina.  We at NC-ASHI did not see any reason to try and reinvent the wheel, so discussions were started to adopt the procedures already in place at GLC-ASHI.  This part of the process was the easiest of all since GLC-ASHI President, Howard Pegelow and Peer Review Chairperson, David Bunker, were more than helpful in providing everything we needed to get the procedures in place here at NC-ASHI.

We held our very first Peer Review Conference in Winston-Salem, NC on December 9, 2006.  David Bunker (Peer Review Chairperson from GLC-ASHI) attended to help us stay on course and ensure our program was a success.  All of our committee members put in countless hours in preparation, and on the day of the Peer Review.


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Photo: NC-ASHI Peer Review Committee in front of the review house, Dec 9, 2006:L to R: Tom Edwards, Ron Hough, David Jones, Larry Conway, Bill Dillon, Andy Hilton, Bruce Rudd (kneeling), John Guy, John Woodmansee, Marion Peeples, Charlie Hamlin

We met at the Peer Review house at about 7:00 AM to conduct the inspection with committee members.  After about an hour and a half we returned to our conference hotel to start developing our “must find” list for the candidates.  This is where the “fun” begins.  The Peer Review Committee members all had a similar but somewhat varied list of defects.  Committee members then discuss, lobby, and vote for their items to make the list of must finds.  This process will open committee members’ eyes as well, exposing each other to the ideas and concerns of other inspectors who have the very same defect.

At 9:00 AM candidates began their inspection of the review house in groups of five.  Smaller groups help in keeping candidates from walking over each other and preventing the sharing of information.  The house sitter acts as a proctor to keep things moving and inform candidates of the “ground rules” in place for this particular house – rules such as safety issues that may cause injury (e.g. the attic access pull down stairs were broken and candidates were advised not to use them) or areas we exempted from the process (this house had an abandoned pool house that was omitted).  Candidates were given two hours to conduct their inspection and return to the hotel.  Then they were allowed a minimum of one hour (some more) to prepare for their oral presentation to the review panel.  Each candidate presented their findings to a review panel of three committee members.  Candidates are required to bring two previous completed inspection reports (one from an older home and one from a newer home) to determine compliance with the Standards of Practice.  Candidates are also required to answer thirty oral questions on general knowledge of home inspections and the Standards of Practice (seventy percent pass rate required).

The oral presentation, thirty questions and review of two reports takes about one and half hours.  If the candidate found all of the defects determined by the committee, scores seventy percent or better on the oral test and their reports are in substantial compliance with the Standards of Practice they are awarded the designation of Inspector by Review®.

All of the candidates had finished their inspections of the review house by 1:00 PM.  This allowed us to offer two additional educational sessions.  One was held for newer inspectors (typically with less than 100 inspections) from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM and another for newer real estate agents from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM.  The educational session was conducted by a couple of the committee members and these programs provided an opportunity for inspectors and real estate agents with minimal experience (again in a non-confrontational environment) to get a on hands look at the review house.  Also, providing time for them to discuss the defects found by the committee, and provide a learning experience that we all know can only obtained from “on the job training”.  

The candidates were eager to learn from the process, and all agreed that the program was very helpful in “Raising the Bar” in their inspection techniques.  The educational sessions for newer inspectors and real estate agents were well received and provided NC-ASHI an opportunity to expose others in our industry what a pro-active ASHI Chapter can offer to those interested in being better informed and educated in the home inspection field.

I would like take this opportunity to encourage all ASHI® Chapters to look into this program as part of your training for newer and experienced inspectors alike.
A very well earned THANK YOU goes out to the GLC-ASHI and Peer Review Committee members for welcoming us into their program.  In addition, a big thanks to David Bunker, Peer Review Chair, for his knowledge, patience and time while assisting NC-ASHI in the start up of the Peer Review program and “Raising the Bar” for North Carolina ASHI inspectors.
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Part three of this article is written by John Woodmansee of North Carolina Chapter, ASHI.  John is a long time ASHI member, and active in NC-ASHI.  John was also very instrumental in bringing the Peer Review to NC-ASHI.


What does it take to “Pass” the Peer Review?

ByJohn Woodmansee, NC-ASHI


I ask this question because of my doubts that I can "pass" the Inspector By Review® certification…at least not easily.  Let me explain.  I have watched, as an observer, the examination process at the Great Lakes Chapter-ASHI® where they have been doing this for 15 years.  Very few GLC-ASHI candidates attain the coveted Inspector By Review® award.  This is a most difficult and challenging task.

After sitting on an examination panel in my own NC-ASHI® Chapter, and watching the candidates in those reviews, all of them skilled and highly motivated to do their best, I came away a bit humbled and puzzled by the experience.  Thus the question: What does it take to "pass"?

Keep in mind that to earn the Inspector By Review® award, you must do three things:

(1) Inspect the review house, present an oral report that contains all the "must find" defects found by the group of 6-10 Chapter inspectors (the Review committee) who earlier in the day had inspected this house.

(2) Have two of your own inspection reports reviewed by the panel for competent, essential compliance with State and ASHI SOP's.

(3) Answer 70% or better of 30 general knowledge questions about home inspections.

But getting all these things right involves three dynamics, two of which you as a candidate bring to the Review.  First, and basic to success, there will be your skill and good judgment as a home inspector.  Talk to us on the panel as if we are laymen clients.  Be sure to show us your good sense by delivering a balanced, fact-based report.  Tell us about why something you found is important, if that is not real obvious.  Tell us that you are not carrying personal biases into your list of defects.  You are going to tell us the big stuff and minor stuff.  Let us know that we must decide what is important to us, the clients of your service.

The second dynamic is your savvy as a reporter in this peculiar situation.  Keep in mind that a whole group of skilled inspectors have pre-inspected this review house.  They, too, had limited time to inspect.  But they conferred with each other and they argued with each other about whether something was a "must find" defect.  Some of the must finds were based on one inspector's discovery.  Others made the list because a majority thought they were warranted (this is America where the majority rules!).  The list of defects probably got pared-down in size to make the review panel's task manageable.  There may be defects of major consequence that none of us found.  (Note: as a guide and to help the committee in its determination, the Peer Review procedures guide specifies a ‘must find’ item is a system or component inspected which, in the professional opinion of the inspector, is significantly deficient or near the end of its service life, where significantly deficient is defined in the ASHI Standards of Practice as “Unsafe or not functioning”, and “Unsafe” is further defined to be “A condition in a readily accessible, installed system or component which is judged to be a significant risk of personal injury during normal, day–to-day use.  The risk may be due to damage, deterioration, improper installation or a change in acceptable residential construction standards”).

Here are a few ideas for you to be most "savvy" about this review procedure:

(1)  Do a SOP-framed report.  Describe all the components and systems required by SOP (foundation type, water shut-off, roofing material, etc.).

(2)  OK to refer to other qualified professionals on puzzling defects or things beyond your skills.  Also OK to direct repairs to the proper tradesmen, but don't bore us with the obvious.

(3)  Better report on all the defects you found (not cosmetic, of course).  The review panel is checking-off your findings against their "must find" list, so don't assume something is unimportant.

(4)  Think like preacher's do with their 20 minute sermon rule, and keep your report as tidy and compact as possible.  For example, you can say "Electrical outlet covers are missing in several places; replace them all for safe use" and not list exactly where.  You can always offer more detail, where requested, but aim for a 30 minute report so that you don't lose the panelists' attention.

(5)  We want you to convince us that you saw the home's defects for what they mean in terms of safety, comfort, and proper functioning for us who will live in this home.  Be sure that we are not left with surprises about living here.  Go outside the SOP requirements if you must to do a complete report.  We as clients will appreciate something like the following: "Although inspection of children's play equipment is not part of our inspection protocol, be sure to notice that the playhouse roof is rotted and will collapse if a child climbs on it."

(6) When you are finished with your report, ask the review panel "Is there any specific concern that you have about this home?”  This gives them a chance to be sure that they understand you on specifics.  

The third dynamic in this adventure is favorable luck.  How many times have you said to yourself "I did not find that problem; maybe I could have if I were there for two days".  To some extent you a victim of the dilemma we all face in this profession…the nearly impossible task of finding everything, every time.  In this high risk job of ours, take some comfort that you are matching wits with a gang of other skilled home inspectors.  They as a group came up with their consolidated, consensus-perfected list of "must find" defects, and your job is to match that list.  You can see why I wish you and all of us GOOD LUCK!

But something else is missing in this discussion.  If the goal of the Peer Review program were simply to gain a designation as a credential, that goal would not have sustained the program for 17 years in the Great Lakes Chapter-ASHI.  There must be something else powerful behind this program that energizes good home inspectors.  The answer for me was found in my questioning of one GLC-ASHI member who had repeated the review four times and had yet to "pass".  He said "While I hope to pass some day, I do this because each time I do it I come away knowing that I am good at this, and I keep shaping my inspection work and reporting with the new things that I learn from this review.”  That is a brave home inspector.
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In summary, the Peer Review has been alive and well in GLC-ASHI for the past 17 years.  In that time, numerous Great Lakes Chapter members have participated in the review, and all have come away better inspectors for their experience.  Since ASHI dropped the Peer Review as a requirement for membership, there have also been many changes in the inspection industry.  As of July 2006, 31 states have licensed home inspectors, making membership in a recognized national professional organization less appealing to newly ‘licensed’ home inspectors (and some ‘old timers’ too).  Also, other home inspector organizations have come on line, and compete with ASHI for membership.  Maybe the time is right for ASHI to rethink the Peer Review, and offer the review on a national basis for its members and candidates, as a voluntary educational program.  This way, ASHI will have instituted a program to set its inspectors above other inspectors elsewhere, licensed or unlicensed.

Finally, I would like to recognize all of the past Peer Review Chairpersons in GLC-ASHI for all of their hard work and effort in keeping this program alive and well.  I thank the following GLC-ASHI members for their assistance and contributions to this article: Ferd Flick, Paul Bossenbroek, Matt Bezanson, Frank Lesh and Don Nelson, and also the following NC-ASHI Members: Andy Hilton, Marion Peeples, Bill Dillon, and John Woodmansee for their contributions to the program and this article.

GLC-ASHI will license its Peer Review program to any ASHI® chapter desiring to use the program.  A Certification Mark license Agreement is required because GLC-ASHI owns the certification marks for Inspector By Review® and Master Inspector By Review®.  By signing the license agreement the chapter using the Peer Review program certifies that it will follow the established written procedures for implementing and running a Peer Review, when passing the review results in the candidate receiving a designation of Inspector By Review® or Master Inspector By Review®.  This ensures the high standards established for the award of these designations are maintained.  For further information contact GLC-ASHI.

David-Bunker.gifDavid Bunker has been an ASHI Member since 1995 and currently serves as the Peer Review Chairperson for Great Lakes Chapter, ASHI®.




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What Can ASHI Do for Your Chapter?


By Ron Rusch, ASHI director

During the awards luncheon at InspectionWorld 2007, I had the distinct pleasure to present awards to two chapters that had done an outstanding job in recruiting members in 2006: Great Lakes and San Joaquin Valley.

However, they were not the only chapters that effectively recruited new members last year. I also identified four large and four small chapters that also had been successful in doing so. In the large chapter category, ASHI recognized Georgia, Arizona, Northern Illinois and Florida ASHI. In the small chapter category, ASHI recognized Ontario, SW Idaho, Blue Ridge and Greater Fredericksburg.

The one that gave me the most pleasure to announce was SW Idaho. They had achieved 50 percent growth in membership during 2006—a very successful year by anyone’s standards. Only 18 months earlier, Curtis Liles had contacted the Chapter Relations Committee, seeking help in revitalizing his chapter. He asked a crucial question, “What can ASHI do for our chapter?” 

He and other chapter leaders believed their chapter had become stagnant and was not providing the support the membership expected and deserved. Without new members, the current leaders were doing all the work. They felt they needed some help revitalizing their chapter.

After discussing the situation with the committee, it was decided David Sherwood, who serves on the committee, would travel to Boise to meet with the leaders. The purpose of the trip was three-fold; (1) to collectively develop a business plan for the chapter, (2) to set goals for the future, and (3) to invite all inspectors in the area to participate in the revitalization of the SW Idaho Chapter.

Before traveling to Boise, David asked for the following background information:


Dave spent three days in Boise working with Curtis Lisle, Stan Audette, Phil Gephart, Steve Pierson and other members. For two days, they focused on determining the chapter’s strengths and weaknesses, what they wanted to accomplish, what resources would that take, and when each step would be completed. This gave them the basis for a rough business and marketing plan. It was decided that to attract new members, they would have to hold regularly scheduled, high-quality chapter meetings.

Day three, all the local home inspectors—ASHI members or not—were invited to attend a meeting to discuss chapter goals and objectives. Everyone had a voice in selecting a Path Forward and was invited to participate in the revitalization of the SW Idaho Chapter. Together, they established chapter goals and objectives, as well as the tasks necessary to accomplish them. Several people volunteered to be responsible for some of the tasks and a timeline was established for their completion. With everyone chipping in, no one was responsible for an overwhelming load.

It is apparent they put their new knowledge and enthusiasm to good use. Just a few months later, the SW Idaho Chapter was recognized for the outstanding job it did in recruiting new members, resulting in 50 percent growth in membership. More people are taking on leadership roles and more home inspectors want to join—the plan is working. They can take great pride in their accomplishment! (See next page for more on SW Idaho.)

If you think your chapter would benefit from some one-on-one assistance from ASHI, contact any member of the Chapter Relations Committee or Bob Kociolek (ASHI staff). To identify and contact committee members, use the Online Membership Directory in the Resource section of the ASHI Members Only Web site. Anyone in your chapter can make the request. If you’d like help, just ask.

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SW Idaho Chapter Produces DVD on Meth

SWIdaho-DVD.gifWorking with the Idaho Real Estate Commission and Idaho State Police, the Southwestern Idaho Chapter created a DVD to help deal with the social menace of methamphetamine.

According to 2006 Chapter President Benny Choy, “The new governor has a copy and is wanting to use what our partnership has put together to educate about this problem statewide.”

Choy also reported that the DVD has been approved for continuing education credits for real estate agents in Idaho.

“Incidentally,” he said, “it cost about $2,000 to produce. We used the money that we received from The ASHI Experience to fund it, and it has been very well received.“

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Central Illinois helps Consumers Recognize Defects

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Photo: Chapter members (L-R) Mark Teague, Bill Brittin and Kevan Zinn help build the booth for the home show.

 As part of its commitment to consumers, the Central Illinois Chapter sponsored a booth at the Bloomington Home Show, March 9-11, 2007. The chapter is committed, through use of chapter funds and volunteer efforts, to promoting ASHI Home Inspectors to consumers in central Illinois.

Photos of common defects found during a home inspection were displayed in the booth, with special attention given to safety issues.