I got to thinking the other day about how I used to inspect when I first started in the early 90’s and how things have changed over the years. I used to hand write the real estate inspection report with carbon paper. Remember that stuff? I would give one copy to the buyer and keep one. God help me if I had the carbon paper the wrong way, didn’t write clearly or ran out of one of the forms. I dressed in blue jeans and a work shirt and when I finished the inspection I went off and did whatever I needed to do as a general contractor.
Now I have a uniform, I only do Commercial Real Estate Inspections, I take digital pictures, I put everything on a computer, the report is at least 50 pages long and when it is done I email it to all the parties within 24 hours. My how times change.
Many things have changed in the commercial real estate inspection business as far as moving into the high tech area.
Here are a few important High-Tech Gadgets:
1. In most commercial real estate inspections it is recommended to have a camera pulled through the underground sewer lines to determine the condition. The cost is from about $300 on up and can save many thousands. Believe it or not this is at least $15,000 of equipment and you get a DVD when it is done. The main reason the equipment is so expensive is that the camera, the connections that have to be flexible and the system as a whole must be waterproof. In addition it must be able to be banged into obstructions such as roots and breaks and such. I always recommend it. After many years of checking it has been found out that over 60% of all these underground inspections done with a camera find issues that require immediate attention. Surprisingly enough it doesn’t matter whether it is new or old.
Side note: Chimney inspections now also usually involve an internal camera. It helps for all the same reasons a sewer line inspection works. These are hidden areas that can only be accurately seen with special equipment.
2. There is a thermal imaging camera that is used now to check amongst other things electrical panels to ensure overheating is not occurring. The cheapest one is over $6000 and good ones are in the $12,000 – $15,000 range. This overheating is an indication that there is a problem that almost always can be handled for a minimal fee with preventative maintenance. If left unattended this overheating can cause serious issues such as burning out the panel or in extreme cases a fire. This could be particularly beneficial in hospital settings or manufacturing situations where having the electrical power inoperative for any length of time could cause extreme hardship or possibly cost lives.
Thermal imaging can also detect differences in temperature in a wall or roof that can show moisture intrusion. I was on a major apartment complex inspection, over 700 units, that was having serious moisture intrusion issues that was using one of these high tech cameras to see where the moisture was coming in without doing intrusive testing. Very handy.
3. Digital cameras have changed our lives in many ways in the inspection field. A picture in the report now makes it all very clear without long involved and often confusing explanations that usually don’t fully communicate the situation. The old adage of “A picture is worth a thousand words” applies fully.
4. I have a digital thermometer that I can point at heating and AC registers to see if they are putting out heated or cooled air
5. I have a GPS in my car to let me know how to get where I need to go and how much longer it will take. This is very handy and has saved me countless times.
We are now using a hand held computer to enter some of the data during the inspection. I have heard of an inspector that uses his phone to enter data and takes pictures at the same time. Amazing stuff.
Two years ago I emailed less than one out of ten inspections. They were all hard copies. Now I mail out less than one a month. All the rest are emailed.
I even have a flashlight that is less than 1/3 the size of the one I used 5 years ago and it is brighter and lasts longer.
I once tried to get a voice command program installed in a computer to do the inspections with but the technology wasn’t up to my needs.
I feel inspections are much better than ever before. I can take a lot of pictures and these help me to remember things and ensure that I get all the important points covered while writing the report. I can look things up on the Internet and get questions answered faster than ever.
Having said all of the above there is no substitute for judgment.
How important is what I am looking at. This can only be achieved with experience. Usually it takes many years to get good reliable judgment that makes sense and is of use to the client. No mater how cool the gadgets, can the inspector see what is important and relay this to the client in a useful manner? This is the key question.
I have a very strong opinion that the best inspectors are general contractors that have moved on to inspections after many years in the trades. I know that is in part because I am one of those. After over 20 years of construction experience and hundreds of different jobs and now over 5000 inspections I have a vast background of experience to draw from.
Ensure your inspector has been around the block a few times and that he knows his business. Most inspectors are good. The best are not alarmists but realists and let you know what is good and bad and what can be done about it if necessary.
High-tech tools are of special and important use in Commercial Real Estate Inspections. But there is no substitute for experience and judgment. The two together are a winning combination for all.