The annual report is a good place to talk about our many accomplishments in 2006. However, I know this topic is addressed competently by others, so instead of listing accomplishments, I’d rather use this opportunity to comment on a few challenges facing our association and the profession.
Our Public Relations Committee continues the struggle to find ways to bring together the many interests of the more responsible competing association groups in the hope of finding common ground. I’m not sure how this effort will turn out, but we need to find a way to identify common ground if our associations ever hope to work together in a meaningful way. These efforts are paramount as we continue working toward unifying the business of home inspection into a true profession. If ASHI stops looking at ways to unify the profession, there is no other group poised to address this challenge. Maybe it’s time for all association groups to come together under one banner versus each group catering to the specific needs of individual members or special interest groups. Membership market share, ego, pride and ignorance are the common obstacles.
From my perspective, a fragmented industry does more to devalue or commoditize our services than to create a real profession. Are consumers looking at home inspection services and viewing them as useful? Everyone I talked to in my ’06 travels knows about this one. The common complaint is their local markets are flooded with startup folks looking to make a quick buck in home inspections or using this business as an easy employment career shift. It’s a common complaint: there are many homebuyers contacting our offices who know little more than price comparisons when calling for inspection services. What can we do about the folks new to the inspection business wanting instant qualifications and gravitating toward low-to no-entry level association groups? Just observe what’s happening on the national scene. Ten years ago it was easy advertising to simply say you belonged to the best association group, holding the highest membership standards. Today, the rise in popularity of no-entry qualification groups dilutes this message, which is bastardized by cheap Internet and other advertising gimmicks that shamelessly promote unqualified people to the public. This has confused homebuying consumers to the point that even state licensing with minimal qualifications is laughable in some markets.
As a result, one of the greatest concerns we face deals with professionalism and entry qualifications to practice in this business. Our industry is all over the board with regulations that are nationally inconsistent, with extremely minimal or no experience required, and with sketchy testing and educational requirements. Our committees have been discussing membership qualifications for over 30 years, making adjustments in response to better consumer protection, logo use with meaningful qualifications, and ultimately how these changes affect the end-user. Homebuyers, especially first time purchasers, are commonly confused and easily influenced during a building purchase.
ASHI’s membership qualifications, and especially our ethics, infuse every law regulating our world in some way. This is simply a testament to the work quality and professional integrity of the people working on committees to improve the home inspection industry. The focus of current laws regulating home inspections on establishing qualifications to the lowest common denominator does little to create a true profession. Again, our business is full of opposing interests working in opposite directions.
After all these years addressing logo use and inspector qualifications, we still struggle for ways to differentiate ourselves with titles of elite status by adding more requirements and other certifications, many with little real meaning. Although these advanced levels feel good internally, I believe they do little to improve the public’s perception of our qualifications. In my opinion and in many cases, these are feeble attempts to add more titles, ribbons or pins on a lapel, and have little to do with influencing or impressing consumers about personal ability to get the job done correctly.
Instead, I believe the public is more impressed with real qualifications. I suggest we look at ways to improve the laws on the books in the existing regulated states by requiring better inspector qualifications including real experience through mentoring, education standards, and consistent testing requirements. This effort is exhausting on a road blocked by many obstacles. It’s important to note, ironically, the real obstacles toward the creation of a true profession seem to come from within the business and not those external to the inspection community. Here we have additional challenges.
We’ve heard it said before: The best defense is a strong offense. Realize we are already strong. We have an established network of chapters that is second to none and we have membership in all states, Canada and the Caribbean. We operate our association with accountability. Your dues go to support the efforts of your association’s volunteers as they communicate and discuss ways to improve our industry as a whole, and to improve your experience within this society. And, our professional staff carries the public message of ASHI membership qualifications, ethical conduct and general information about who we are and what we stand for on a daily basis. Our staff is our public voice, which provides consistency and stability at a fixed address in Chicago.
The business of home inspections is plagued with many challenges, and there are more ahead of us as we try to make this a real profession. As an ASHI member actively engaged in home inspections, I am confident there are enough people who deeply care about the direction of this business and will eventually push it in the right direction.