Why does a legitimate home inspection cost over $300 in Annapolis or Anne Arundel County Maryland?


In response to my students in the home inspector course I'm instructing near Baltimore, the following response is posted...

NOTE: these figures and estimates are based on the Anne Arundel market.  

The daily avg overhead rate (256 work days) = $70/work day.
The hourly rate for professional field inspector within this area = $40/hr.
The average number of inspections done = 50/yr.
Travel costs are $0.56/mile & avg. distance to site is 10 miles from office

 The assumptions also include the following: 

1. The inspector has at least two years of experience, is licensed, etc.
2. Inspection equipment is mid-range/modest: it doesn't include FLIR, etc.
3. Inspector uses software generated/checklist based reports.
4. Inspector's firm pays applicable taxes, fees, insurance premiums, etc.
5. The firm engages in a modest level of advertising <$2,100/yr.
6. The firm has financial commitment for admin, bookkeeping, etc.

The Break Even Point (BEP) Math

A typical, full-scope home inspection will take about 4 hours to complete.  The report takes an additional hour and results in a total labor cost of $200.
Daily fixed and variable overhead costs are calculated at $70 per day.  Note: if there are two inspections that day, this cost is halved.  However, most days have just one scheduled.
Travel costs for inspection 10 miles from the office is $11.20.
Delivery costs associated with the client's report and required filing/retention averages $8.

$200 labor + $70 ovhd + $11.20 travel + $8 report admin = The gross BEP price of a typical inspection =$289.20

The "Cha Ching!" Math

The "standard" profit w/in the construction trades is 10-15 percent of total gross invoice.  Assuming the low end of this scale, the profit from an BEP priced inspection would be $28.92.  

$289.20 Gross invoice + $28.92 profit margin @ 10% = $318.12

Of note: the profit margin would have to be below 4% to bring the cost of a legitimate home inspection under $300!

Given all of the liability risks and pitfalls, would you take on a job like this for less than 4 percent profit?  Yet, there are numerous inspectors--some unlicensed--who take inspections from Thumbtack, Craigslist, and agent referrals for less than $200.  Of course, we hear and frequently get to see first hand the aftermath of these "bargain inspections" as part of our day job as home improvement contractors.  

So, far from complaining about incompetent, super cheap home inspections, I wish these erstwhile competitors all the best.  In fact, I hope that even more homebuyers seek out the cheapest inspection they can find--get on Thumbtack, et al and get that the bidding down as low as it will go!  It's good for our business, for it's much more profitable for us to come and fix that house with the undisclosed and undiscoved defects as a licensed home improvement contractor AFTER it has been purchased!high-repair-bill

Still, most home inspectors are not also home improvement contractors, so, since their livelihood is at stake, what can they do to become price competitive with budget priced "Chuck in a truck?"

Maryland DLLR regulates home inspectors


What an inspector could do to bring their basic inspection price down below $300

1. Drop optional insurance coverages that protect their clients, such as Errors and Omissions (E&O) policies or INACHI's home buyback guarantee program.  Low-priced competitors typically don't carry these policies because they are not required to maintain home inspector licensure in Maryland.  The only insurance required by the state is general liability coverage for a minimum of $150K.  Note that this policy will do absolutely nothing to pay for any errors or oversight on the part of your home inspector.  If the inspector you hire doesn't have additional coverage, your only recourse is lengthy, potentially costly litigation.  Of course, you can still complain and here's a convenient link for the form to do so MD DLLR's Link to Home Inspector Complaint Form

2. Stop attending more than the minimum professional development training required to maintain licensure.  Most low-priced competitors seek out the cheapest, shortest, & easiest training available for the small number of courses that are required by the state's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR).
Continuing Professional Competency Training Requirements for MHIL

3. Drop memberships to professional inspection associations and disengage from home inspection groups and blogs.  Most associations, such as the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (INACHI), require continuous education and dues to remain a member in good standing.  Low-priced competitors don't have time to spend on networking with colleagues, additional education and testing, or keeping up with developments in new building technologies or inspection issues.  

4. Stop upgrading inspection equipment and software.  Most low-priced competitors are still using the same basic tools and references they initially trained with.

5. Find shortcuts and other ways to reduce the amount of time spent on an inspection.  Most low-priced competitors will spend less than two hours from start to finish--about half the time needed to perform a complete evaluation of the home's systems.

6. Insist on delivering a generic, preformatted report on-site.  Most low-priced competitors are extremely reliant on checklist-based reporting software to cover their lack of experience.  Many of these programs can be quickly sped through to produce a report that can be printed off/e-mailed before the inspector leaves.  Unfortunately, a fast and cheap report is rarely any good, and once they have delivered the report they are done!

7. When it comes to describing your experience and competency, exaggerate, exaggerate, exaggerate!  Then, solicit temporary workers who can operate under cover of your license and pay them at the general labor rate.  Some low-priced competitors simply "fake it until they can make it" and charismatically convince their clients to stay focused on the "deal" they're getting on the price of their inspection (or the home they're going to buy).  Referrals were given to you for a reason!  If you didn't specifically go out of your way to ask for it, and the person you got the referral from isn't your friend or family member, what likely motivated that individual to provide this "assistance?" Is their motivation in your best interest???

MD Home Inspector Ethics and Standards of Practice links

8. Change your name or move elsewhere.  When their slipshod service and general incompetence finally begins to catch up to them, many low-priced competitors seek out new markets under a new pseudonym.  Beware the recently established company with the unbelievably low prices!

9. Toss the moral compass: disclaim and disavow!  Insist on putting as little as possible in writing.  Take only a few germane pictures and point out only the most obvious of defects.  Many low priced competitors even have "hold harmless" clauses buried in the fine print of their inspection agreements.  Ask to see previous reports and read all agreements carefully!


Stigmatized Home Sales in Maryland...What You Don't Know Could Come Back to Haunt You!

There are several forms of stigmatized property, and some states have passed resolutions or statutes to deal with them. One issue that separates them is disclosure.  In Maryland, the seller or realtor is not necessarily required to disclose the full facts related to stigmatizing events related to the property.           

  • Criminal stigma: Maryland does not require disclosure of property used in the commission of a serious crime.  
  • Murder/suicide stigma: information related to homicides or suicides occurring on the property is not viewed as a material fact under Maryland statute. 
  • Phenomena stigma: Maryland does not require disclosure if a house is renowned for "haunting," ghost sightings, etc.

Maryland Code is very clear that real estate agents in Maryland are not personally liable for failing to disclose the details of events that would stigmatize a property.  From the Maryland Code, Business Occupations and Professions, Title 17. Real Estate Brokers, Subtitle 3. Licensing comes:

§ 17-322.1. Failure to disclose certain facts – Disease, death, felony.

(a)  Material fact.- For purposes of § 17-322(b) of this subtitle, it is not a material fact relating to property offered for sale or lease that:

(1) an owner or occupant of the property is, was, or is suspected to be:

(i) infected with human immunodeficiency virus; or

(ii) diagnosed with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome; or

(2) a homicide, suicide, accidental death, natural death, or felony occurred on the property.

 (b)  Disciplinary action; personal liability.

(1) It is not grounds for a disciplinary action against a licensee under this subtitle, that a licensee did not disclose to a prospective purchaser or lessee, a fact contained in subsection (a) of this section.

(2) A licensee may not be held personally liable for failure to disclose a fact contained in subsection (a) of this section.

H. Warren Crawford and Donald Allen White in their book Maryland Real Estate: Practice & Law put it best when they said “A licensee needs the express permission of sellers to reveal any of these matters to prospective purchasers or their agents, because such disclosure might impede the sale of the listed property … [i]n order to meet the requirement of trustfulness, they must answer prospects’ questions about these matters when given sellers’ permission.”

So, what can you do to make sure that your house isn't stigmatized?  Simply put, you can't unless and until you do adequate research. Here are some tips we recommend:

  1. Talk to your prospective neighbors.  You're going to have to eventually anyway, so now would be a great time to find out that the home used to be the residence of the local axe murderer, etc.
  2. Talk to your local law enforcement.  Most cops know where the truly memorable cases happened, and you can benefit from their insight on local crime stats.  You may also obtain criminal activity reports/records from the Sheriff's Department, etc.
  3. Conduct Internet researches of local media (newspapers, radio sites, etc.) using the street address of the property.  Skip past the MLS related stuff and add key words like "murder, suicide, drugs, homicide"--you get the idea.
  4. There are some nationwide databases of stigmatized properties, but we haven't found one we'd recommend.  You're welcomed to try them, but we caution about relying exclusively on their results.  Speaking of things you might want to know about, there may be other Web sites that you want to examine, such as the state's sex offender registry.
  5. Use an established realtor who has several years of local area experience.  Consider using a buyer's agent who has a specific fiduciary responsibility to their client.  You can add in a clause to the agreement that includes full disclosure of a property's history that would make it stigmatized.
  6. If the home has been on the market a long time (our area average is just over 90 days) and the price has dropped numerous times, ask questions until you find out exactly what is behind the difficulty in selling.
In closing, we don't recommend buying a stigmatized property.  They can be extremely challenging to sell, and even if there are no duties to disclose, the failure to do so can still result in costly litigation.

Corrugated Stainless Steel Tubing (CSST) Inspections in Maryland

Corrugated Stainless Steel Tubing Safety Link
Explanation of new CSST installation requirements
Addition of CSST inspection w/in MHIL COMAR 

Recently, final action was taken by the Maryland State Commission of Real Estate Appraisers, Appraisal Management Companies, and Home Inspectors on CSST inspection reguirements originally proposed under the Minimum Standards of Practice (COMAR 09.36.07).  Resolution passed and MHIL holders are now required to properly inspect any CSST installation on gas-operated applicances found withiin an inspected home.  Specifically, they are to check for proper connection and grounding to the home's electrical distribution system.

CSST installations became popular due to the increased cost savings and ease of installation.  This type of gas appliance supply piping is often used where traditional "black steel pipe" used to be the commonly installed standard.   CSST is available at larger home supply/hardware stores, so improper installation by untrained homeowners is highly likely in cases of "do-it-yourself" replacements of gas-operated appliances within the home.

This new requirement regarding the inspection of CSST grounding installation was motivated by an observed risk of home fires related to CSST ruptures following lightning strikes.  Approximately 7,000 homes are involved in lightning related fires each year in the United States, and although this number roughly equates to just under three percent of all home fires reported each year, CSST fires--fueled by lightning following along an atomized natural gas or propane supply line--are highly likely to result in catastrophic damage and/or loss of life.

The links provided will give more information related to the topic.  Home inspectors should review the installation exemplars and safety information in these links in order to comply with the newly adopted minimum inspection standards related to CSST installations in the homes they inspect.

Staying abreast of new building practices and the rapidly changing inspection requirements related to the proper installation and maintenance of these systems is part of a home inspector's continuing education requirements. Tokori makes an extra effort to put out this type of information in all of the home inspection courses we teach and makes blog posts to get the word out to the professional community.  

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