Rosie the Riveter, aka Candace Houston, brings a fresh outlook to the traditionally male-dominated industry of home inspectors
In her profession, Candace Houston is considered something of a pioneer. There are plenty of woman real estate agents, even bankers, architects and transactional attorneys.
But home inspectors the people who squirm around under houses looking for cracks and leaks and other problems? Not exactly a booming career choice women tend to make.
Which is what gave the lesbian businesswoman the idea for her company name: Rosie the Riveter Inspections.
“She was one of the first real pushes to get women into the workforce during World War II,” Houston explains. “What more beautiful way to win over the housebound woman, to see they could hold down a job and have a household. And the image is in the public domain.”
Houston estimates that 98 percent of those in her job are men, but she doesn’t see that as a disadvantage. Instead, it is an opportunity everyone remembers the woman inspector.
“It’s a dirty job,” Houston says about why few women have entered the field. “If you’re dealing with older house 50 years and up you’re talking about old attics and crawlspaces.”
That means spiders and rodents and earthworms. But Houston doesn’t mind the crawlspaces and she’s gotten used to the cobwebs. What she really enjoys is “educating people about their real estate purchases,” she says.
Houston works mostly as a buyer’s inspector, meaning she is usually hired by those who already have (or are about to) put a contract on a house. Her job is to go over it carefully and evaluate the overall condition a trained third-party expert with no interest in the outcome.
“You really do want a third party” to do an inspection, she says. “The Realtor might push one inspector; I have a problem with that. I just want to be a choice. I don’t want to be the big push because I don’t want my buyer to think I have a conflict.”
She also doesn’t take referral fees so there’s never a question about her independence.
Independence, in fact, is the key to understanding the value of a home inspection. Houston and others like her are trained to know what to look for mostly to evaluate safety issues and explain structural damage that may need to be repaired.
Buying a house, she says, boils down to answering the questions “What are you willing to live with and who will pay for the rest?” That’s not something she can usually answer outright.
“People ask me, “‘Is this a good house?’ or “‘Would you buy this house?’ I can’t answer that for them. Lots of things will be listed on a report, so it’s really about information how do you want to deal with it? Are you willing to live with the fact that the panel box needs to be updated or the doors aren’t square?”
Not having square doors is especially an issue in North Texas, where the expansion and contraction of the soil causes many foundation problems. But perhaps because foundation defects are so common, they do not always nor should they queer a deal. The issue is often one of degree.
Houston says she has only ever told one buyer that they should not close on a deal.
“They were putting all of the money they had in savings into this house and said they would have nothing left over to affect repairs,” she says.
She told them the defects that needed fixing would make the house virtually unlivable while they waited to get the money to implement changes.
Houston offers some general advice when selecting an inspector.
Although Houston does mostly older pier-and-beam homes, she recommends hiring an inspector even on newer construction. Until recently, she notes, builders had no guidelines in doing their work. That meant that other than code compliance (which changes frequently), many practical safety aspects that inspectors look for weren’t even on the radar during construction. Houston says houses built as recently as 12 months ago won’t be “up to code” this year.
She offers as an example the kind of glass used for particular purposes. Large pane windows that did not need to be glazed with tempered glass when the house was built years ago may be discovered to pose a risk, especially to small children who could run through them. Thus, the house was code-compliant but not inspector-approved.
“Even new construction have issues that will be written down the road when someone wants to sell it,” she says.
If the buyer is involved in the construction from scratch, she suggests doing a phase inspection having an inspector come during the building to make sure the execution won’t raise problems down the road.
Houston says you should expect to pay a fair price for the service. A good inspection on an average sized house will run a minimum of $300, depending on how long it takes to do the inspection. Pier and beam structures usually take her four hours or so to fully inspect, and that includes writing the report (which she tries to do on site).
Ads that promote $99 specials “should lead you to ask what you’re getting for that,” Houston says. “Are they doing a complete inspection? Some might be part-time inspectors, or they haven’t been doing this long and are trying to start up their business.”
In the past, anyone could call himself a “home inspector” without any qualifications. There was no licensing or regulation. That’s not the case nowadays.
“Today, we are licensed by the same agency that real estate agents have,” says Houston.
But that doesn’t mean all are created equally. Although Houston has only been in business for herself for two years, she served an extended apprenticeship with a 20-year veteran. She recommends hiring someone who has hands-on experience.
Houston says it’s not necessary and indeed not preferable for the potential buyer to be present during the entire inspection. One reason is that much of the work she does is solitary (wriggling under houses, scaling roofs). Another is that extra people on site can slow her down by asking questions before she has answers. Buyers can also distract her, causing her to miss a potential problem area.
But ultimately, she does like the buyer to show up before the inspection is over – that way she can point out problems and explain the meaning of things.
Not all home inspectors do termite inspections “that’s a separate license,” Houston says so make sure you know what you’re getting from an inspector. A termite letter can be a boon down the line.
In the end, however, inspectors offer a snapshot.
“Houses change day to day,” Houston says.
Savvy buyers need to be aware that nothing lasts forever. But an inspector might be able to help you pick something that will last a little longer.
Rosie the Riveter Inspections, 214-887-9130, Rosieinspctions.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, March 3, 2006.