“Well, you are the cutest inspector I’ve ever seen!” exclaimed one real estate agent as I walked up to a recent appointment. I paused momentarily at the implied diminutive, before smiling genuinely at the compliment, striking up a conversation and carrying on with my inspection. We had a very good chat throughout, both about the common aspects of our jobs and my findings as I went through them with her, and I left a happy customer behind.
While that type of interaction isn’t necessarily typical for me, it certainly does happen. Being an uncommon sight—a female home inspector—I suppose I surprise some people and that’s just a given.
However, most busy real estate agents don’t care if I’m a man, woman or a talking purple monkey, as long as I can get the job done.
As a woman, I get some impressed or negative looks, maybe a startled comment and a whole lot of curiosity. For first-time homebuyers especially, for whom the whole process is new and scary, having a woman inspector can be either a step too far for comfort or an added value for the novelty.
Being courteous and understanding when someone shows a strong reaction of surprise turns that interaction to my advantage and provides me with one more platform from which I can build a relationship with my clients. Even just talking about what got me into the profession is a great way to break the ice and get to know my clients when I’m meeting them for the first time.
As a child, I was always fascinated with how things worked and I often volunteered for small jobs like roofing a barn, hanging doors or changing the oil in a truck to satisfy my curiosity. My parents were both teachers and, without many role models to provide alternative examples, I grew up and went to college, imagining I’d have to settle for an office job, although I found myself putting that off as long as possible.
I never honestly even considered a career in the trades until the day I volunteered to climb in a sump pump. I was working as a bartender at the time in a blue-collar region and one of the local plumbers needed someone “tiny” to get inside the hatch of a commercial sump to cut out a damaged pipe. I offered and helped him with that and, in doing so, I enjoyed the feeling of working with my hands and doing something measurably useful.
Before too long, I found myself doing any odd bits of work that came up. I apprenticed with a dental machine technician for a summer. I bought a motorcycle and started teaching myself about mechanical repairs. I learned from a carpenter how to build my own furniture.
Soon, I quit my job and started working full time as a handyperson, where I threw myself into doing anything from reconstructing built-in cabinetry and wood refinishing to simple plumbing work and installing electrical fixtures. Every opportunity I could find to figure out something new I took and I quickly discovered that everything I was learning interconnected. I loved it!
Running my Own Business
Working as a freelancer was how I got my introduction to running my own business and it was when I first experienced the general astonishment that often comes when I show up for a service call.
I think I was more surprised than anyone when I found that my gender was no barrier. In fact, women often told me they were more comfortable with me in their homes in the middle of the day than they would otherwise be with a man. All other distinctions aside, my clients wanted a job done and I was there to do it. I took a lot of pride in my work, and I was always very honest with what I was capable of and what I wasn’t.
Finding the Career that Clicked
After a few years of freelancing, I decided to look for something that would offer a bit more stability. I tried my hand variously at police work, firefighting and wilderness first aid. When those all reached an end, I took a drive around the country to clear my head and make a decision on where I might want to live next. I came to the conclusion that what I really wanted was an actual career in the trades—with skills and training that I could build on as I gained experience, a mental capital I could take with me when I decided to move and working in a field that would be mentally stimulating.
My husband had met a female building inspector at one of his jobs and he suggested I talk to her. After that conversation, I looked into her field and, in the process, found home inspection. Once I started there, everything clicked into place. With all the disjointed bits and pieces of my experience, once I started a comprehensive study of how houses are engineered, it all made perfect sense to me. My years of bartending gave me the people skills and unflappable confidence necessary to so many aspects of this job. My varied experiences, like helping a contractor replace a leaking section of a radiant heating system in a slab, for example, have been essential to visualizing and diagnosing the systems in any given home. Even my propensity for long road trips has given me useful experience, as many hours are spent in a car in this field.
Having gone through life not really sure how to best put all my skills and interests into a career this one, once I started shouted out to me.
To be perfectly honest, I see no difference whatsoever between men and women completing the job of home inspection. In my opinion, personal traits have nothing to do with gender. That said, I’ve heard often enough the general misconception that women might be “naturally” less suited than men to this type of work. The main generality cited as a barrier for women is the physicality of this job.
I, however, consider every trait typically ascribed to my gender to be a huge advantage in this field. Women are, in general, smaller than men, often more flexible, with a low center of gravity. I’ve seen this written already from some women inspectors, but I’ll reiterate: My small stature and flexibility are incredible advantages in crawlspaces and attics. I can very often get over or around piping and obstacles that stymie some of the guys.
This isn’t to say that a male inspector and a female inspector can’t do the same inspection equally well, but the crawlspace would normally be easier and faster for me to inspect, as I can take a straight line to go over, under or through obstacles and tight spaces he might have to go around. Also, my low center of gravity gives me extra balance on the ladders, rooftops and attic joists. Beyond that, there isn’t a whole lot of musculature required in wielding a screwdriver or carrying a ladder.
I also find advantages in the non-physical aspects of the job. Either because of some preconception of my gender or a personal aspect, people tend to find me non-threatening, which can be quite useful when you’re inspecting a house occupied by owners or tenants. My clients seem to feel comfortable peppering me with questions that they otherwise might feel intimidated to ask.
Home Inspection Knows no Gender
There are plenty of barriers to this job, but none of them are specific to women. To be a good home inspector, you need to notice a lot of detail, be able to write and speak, and have a certain curiosity and critical thinking ability. You have to be able to notice the obvious signs of, say, water stains, flickering lights or foundation undermining, and have the wherewithal to track down the possible causes, with whatever tools or knowledge you have.
To the real estate agents who want to know what it is about me that I would want to do this job that is so male-dominated, I explain: There is nothing in this work that selects for male traits. It comes down to exposure, desire and general chutzpah.
To be fair, there are times (oh, are there ever times!) when I’m in a tiny crawlspace, mummified rodent bodies littered about, spiders skittering over my head and a seemingly impassable maze of ductwork in front of me. At odd moments like those, I sometimes wonder who else in the world—woman or man—would willingly be where I am at that moment.
I’m often working for 12 hours on any given day, my car is practically my primary residence and I’m subject to all the extremes of weather. But then I get to explain to an interested buyer the physics behind the siphon created by an S-trap or why clean gutters are so important, or I find an arcing electrical connection deep in an attic and maybe even prevent a house fire and that’s the job! I’m pretty much always humming happily as I sleuth all the details I can ferret out on a property, some obvious, some obviously hidden. Whatever draws inspectors to it, we seem to be a pretty contented lot.
We all have strengths. Some inspectors speak Cantonese, some have retired from fields like electrical or plumbing and bring the wealth of their knowledge to the table.
In addition to my other skills and attributes, I bring certain traits of my gender and I find this is definitely a positive addition.
When I learned how to rock climb, I found that there is no one way to go up a wall. A tall person will find a totally different route than a short person on the same face, but ultimately, they both get to the top. Home inspection is much the same. Everyone has their own system, but we all do our best to give an accurate diagnosis of the structure we’re inspecting.
A Passion for Home Inspection
I am a woman. I am a home inspector. Neither of those things is exclusive to the other. What talents, skills and innate attributes I have, I bring to the job. All of my past experience from both my work and hobbies fed into what I do now, and I’m genuinely happy to go to work every day. It's always different, always interesting and always gratifying! I truly love the honesty of this work. People (both buyers and sellers) are depending on me to give them a clear, fair and comprehensive picture of their home. They are depending on my integrity and skill. It’s rewarding to be granted that kind of trust and I feel lucky to do what I do every day!