By Mary Anne Tonini
I became interested in becoming an inspector after working as a licensed therapist, which I did upon completion of my Masters degree from the University of Louisville. After 10 years in the mental health service field, I was looking for a change in my career direction.
I had experienced what a fabulous service home inspectors offered when I bought a 1917 American Foursquare house in 1998. I have always loved working on houses and had bought, fixed up and sold a few houses in my 20s.
Late in 2003, I decided to further investigate the idea of becoming a home inspector and took a week off work to attend a week long home inspector training course. The class sent a big book about a month before the classes started and I read through it becoming more excited about the idea. I felt like the stars were lining up as I read through and found myself writing lots of questions along the side of the book.
When the classes started, I was the only woman in a room of 22 men. When the teacher asked us to introduce ourselves, I was not only the only woman but, imagine this, the only therapist. Most of the guys were in the building trade or retiring from the trade. The teacher stated that out of all of us that would become inspectors, only 2 would still be an inspector 3 years from now. I am absolutely sure that no one in the room, but me, thought that I would be one of those. I had nothing to lose, so I asked all of my questions, spent my lunch hour talking to the teacher and asked more questions in the time between classes.
I came back home, passed the test and called the inspector who had inspected my home 5 years earlier. He sent me to talk to an ASHI certified inspector, Houser Canter. We hit it off and I began to inspect with him on weekends and on days I could take off from my job. I quit my job in short order and began to work full time for him. We became partners and we owned the company together for 4 years before I purchased it from him. Houser continues to be a mentor and a friend to me even today. Through him, I was introduced to other ASHI members and those inspectors were pivotal in my professional development.
One inspector in particular, Ken Osborne, has been my sanity on days when I just can’t seem to put the words together, or when I just can’t remember what I know. He is a phone call away and has always treated me like an inspector...not a woman inspector. I have a great deal of respect and appreciation to the small but qualified Kentuckiana ASHI group. It is always clear, when the client shows up, if they are not very confident about having a woman inspector. I have learned to put on the tool belt as soon as I get out of the car. This avoids the “Are you the listing agent?” question.
I have found that even the protective father, who is in attendance, needs a trip around the house with me to feel confident that I know my stuff. When I first started, the first 15 minutes of the inspection was spent winning the men over. I would be clear with everyone and establish expectations and then walk them around the outside of the house. I quickly learned that I needed to get to the house 15 minutes early so I could assess the outside before the client arrived and could give them an example of how the process would work.
When I first started, I also had many men offer to carry my ladder or help me with the electric panel (I am guessing that male inspectors don’t receive that offer often), but over the years my expertise in handling my equipment and my presentation of information has shifted the focus on me as a female. I can actually say that after 15 minutes, it doesn’t matter what gender I am, because the client knows I am a professional and is confident in the job I will be doing. I also have many people who call me because they know someone who has hired me in the past, so the hurdle that I am a female inspector has already been cleared.
I do find that being a woman inspector makes single women more comfortable to ask all of their questions (even if they think they might not be good questions). I believe that my attention to detail and my small stature have also been big benefits in my inspection career. I get a lot of small crawlspace referrals because they know I will fit and they know I will get in there. What I know to be true is that integrity and knowledge are much more important than what my gender is.
Communication and commitment to protect my client will always be my focus, but if the client ever doubts my ability to perform based on my anatomy, they simply need only to give me a chance to prove myself. I am willing to prove myself every day.