Tessa Murry, ACI
I never thought in a million years that I’d be a home inspector, but looking back, several things led me to it. When I graduated from high school in 2006, I was trying to figure out my life. I opted not to go to college, and instead, I signed up for a yearlong AmeriCorps opportunity. My assignment was to organize Habitat for Humanity groups in Louisiana, the year after Hurricane Katrina had hit that area.
I was a construction crew leader and our assignment was being ramped up from building one home in a year to building 100 homes in a year. Part of my job involved supervising the volunteer teams who did the construction work. Some volunteers were retirees who had construction experience and these people taught me the basis of everything I now know.
I always liked houses. I learned about how they worked and I eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in residential building science technology from the University of Minnesota. The program blended aspects of engineering, architecture and physics. I learned to look at a house as a system, to provide an efficient, durable and overall quality living situation for the occupants. I also interned with a nonprofit weatherization program and learned about energy efficiency in homes. All of this education led me to a niche career—working for a home performance company that specialized in solving complex problems.
In Minnesota, many homes are damaged by ice or frost, so while doing weatherization project work, I met ASHI member Reuben Saltzman. At first, Reuben referred several people to me to discuss weatherization issues related to their homes and when he offered me a job with StructureTech, I took it! I’ve learned a lot from him. When we started working together, I knew some things that applied to home inspections, but I had to learn everything else, like plumbing and electrical. I’ve been on the StructureTech team for three years and in January 2018, the team attended InspectionWorld®. It was a great opportunity for me to meet people.
I belong to the ASHI Heartland Chapter and I really like the educational sessions with speakers who lead discussions about relevant topics. Every four months, our chapter holds a full-day seminar, which I have helped teach and facilitate a few times. I was involved in seminars that featured peer review of local houses that were open for inspection, and facilitated discussion regarding the building envelope, insulation and HVAC systems.
I’ve presented educational sessions at the Duluth Energy Design Conference and will also start teaching continuing education classes to local real estate agents. I’ve also taught weatherization to students in the University of Minnesota’s Building Science program.
My family is very supportive of my career path. They knew I was “into homes” from a young age; however, my mom was surprised when I went to school to earn a more scientific degree rather than to pursue a more artistic path. In my spare time, I still enjoy art and painting. I work with oil pastels and acrylics, and like to paint most anything.
There are not many women home inspectors in Minnesota and I am the only female ASHI Certified Inspector in the state. I’m probably half the age of most home inspectors I’ve met, but it doesn’t seem to matter—the interactions I’ve had with others have been positive and my fellow inspectors are very kind. I get my fair share of skeptical looks when I arrive on site for an inspection, sporting a tool belt and carrying my ladder. But my experience in the field, my education and my affiliation with StructureTech usually put any doubts to rest.
Many people have helped me build my career. Back in Louisiana, my first mentors were Bob and Doris Meyer, a retired couple who taught me everything about construction. I had a professor at the University of Minnesota who was very encouraging. And Reuben continues to be an excellent mentor and champion of my work and abilities.
My advice to others is to find some good home inspectors and see what they do. I’ve had a very unconventional career path and the year I spent in Louisiana was irreplaceable. I learned real-life skills and gained practical knowledge that launched me toward a career that I love.
For people who don’t want a 9-to-5 desk job, home inspection is a great career. You’ll use a variety of skills and it does help to have a construction background. It’s also important to be a good communicator—for writing reports and for interacting with clients. You need to be a well-rounded person to be an excellent home inspector.
Jessica Lawton, ACI
I earned my “handy skills” on my folks’ horse farm in Illinois. I’d open up a machine to figure out how it worked and what I needed to do to get it running again. I’ve been elbow deep in everything from washing machines, manure spreaders and air conditioners to everything in between. When I was considering becoming a home inspector, Eric Barker from the ASHI Great Lakes Chapter told me to reach out to a man in my area “with an encyclopedic knowledge of homes,” Lon Grossman. I called Lon to see if I could do a ride-along and he said, “Sure. Be here tomorrow at 8 am.” Throughout that day, I saw Lon’s passion for home inspection and at the end of the day, I asked, “Can we do this again tomorrow?” Lon agreed and I shadowed him for several months. I’d show up, carry the tools and learn everything I could, often typing up my notes at night so I could further cement the information into my brain.
Lon taught me to look at a house in the same way I looked at a machine—except with a home, the parts don’t move. This concept made a lot of sense to me and it informs the way I continue to approach home inspection. Eventually, Lon invited me to work with him, so I got my license, became an ASHI member and an ASHI Certified Inspector, passed the Michigan State Builders exam, had business cards printed and—bam—I was a home inspector.
I’d had no problem fixing and explaining tools, equipment and machinery, but to be a home inspector, I had to expand my knowledge of houses so I could explain details with confidence. In fixing equipment, I didn’t need to explain my thought process or reasoning to anyone—I could just identify the problem and fix it. Lon had to teach me how all the components of a house work and how they were designed to work together, as well as how to confidently and fully explain potential issues to clients. In the beginning, gaining the confidence to explain what I was seeing was the hardest part. I’ve had clients who, upon learning I was a woman, were skeptical or concerned about the quality of the inspection I would provide them, some outright voicing that to me.
Lon told me that there will always be people who will question my skills, but that I should remain confident that I’m good at my job, so just do my job and those people will change their tune. Early on, I scheduled a solo inspection for the daughter of a well-known local builder. When I learned that the builder would be attending the inspection with his daughter, I was nervous, but Lon told me, “Just do what you do and you’ll be fine.” At the end of the inspection, the builder said, “I don’t have much need for a home inspector, but give me some of your business cards. You’re quite good, and I’ll tell my friends to call you.” It was validating experience that boosted my confidence.
My clients put a lot of trust in me and I take that seriously. I feel lucky to have a job that allows me to look out for somebody else in what is most likely the largest purchase they have ever made. If a client asks me, “Should I buy it?” I explain exactly what they should know about the home, what they’ll have to fix and when, and what issues are normal and not normal for a house of a certain age. At a certain point, a house can just become a math problem in terms of costs of repairs, what it’s worth and so on. “Everything can be fixed, it’s just money”—to buy or not to buy is entirely up to a client.
I feel that my brain and my senses are my best tools. I listen to the house, feel the boards under my feet, smell the house for mold, see the loose tiles or roof shingles. I try to continue to observe things around me when answering clients’ questions so I don’t waste an opportunity to notice what’s going on inside or outside the house.
My “party trick” is my photographic memory of houses I’ve inspected. If someone shows me a photo or a street view, I can rattle off details about the house, even if I did the inspection years ago. Sometimes this skill is useful when I get a call from a client with a question from an inspection I did in the past.
My advice is to never stop educating yourself, even when you’ve hit your stride. There’s always more to learn. Lon taught me that “education is expensive, but not being educated is even more expensive.” As a home inspector, you serve as an unbiased third party. Give clients your time and expertise, not your opinion. The things you see—or don’t see –can affect someone’s quality of life