Hiring an unqualified home inspector can be disastrous for a buyer. It could even lead to the seller canceling the transaction. But there are steps you can take to ensure that you're working with an inspector who is professionally qualified, from asking for credentials to reviewing a home inspection report they've created for another buyer.
Check Credentials and Qualifications
There's no shortage of home inspector associations. One of the best known and oldest organizations is the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), which requires that candidates for certification must pass an in-person exam and successfully complete at least 250 inspections for compensation. ASHI provides a list of state requirements for home inspectors on its website.
The requirements to be licensed as a home inspector varies by state. Each has different standards for the systems of a home that will be inspected.
You can also ask friends for referrals or ask your real estate agent for a recommendation, but you'll still want to research the inspector's qualifications and credentials. Go online and search for complaints made against anyone you're considering.
You might also want to check with the Better Business Bureau for complaints if the inspector is accredited.
Inquire if the inspector has errors and omissions (E&O) insurance as well. This insurance is intended to protect the inspector and the client against losses that occur because of an oversight on the inspector's part.
Some inexperienced agents recommend inferior inspectors because they don't want a full-blown inspection that could hamper their deal, but reputable agents demand qualified inspectors because they want their buyers to be informed.
Review a Sample Home Inspection Report
A good home inspector should agree to send you a sample report. Don't hire anyone whose assessment is only a few pages long. Report lengths can vary, but comprehensive inspection reports average between 20 and 50 pages. They should contain color photographs highlighting defects or problems.
Main areas an inspection report should cover include:
- Interior features
- Exterior conditions
The report details the conditions of the home and what repairs are needed. A good home inspector will be thorough and accurate.
Many insurance providers will want to see a copy of the home inspection report before insuring the property. Lenders will also want to see a copy of the report.
Your inspection might include testing the air quality of the home for mold. Properties with basements will usually include radon inspections for an extra fee. Most home inspectors don't perform a full pest inspection, but they might indicate in their reports any damage that they see.
Avoid Inspectors Who Recommend Contractors
Home inspectors are in the business of inspecting homes, so an inspector could be creating a conflict of interest if they direct you to a certain contractor to work on repairs. Liability issues can ensue if a home inspector recommends repairs.
Some state regulations and inspector associations allow an inspector to undertake specified repairs, but it's in your best interest to keep these two issues separate unless the inspector can also provide qualifications to make repairs. The work should be handled by licensed contractors who can be warrantied.
Make sure they get permits for repairs from your local building authority, usually the city.
How Long Does a Home Inspection Take?
Most home inspections take from two to three hours, but they can take longer. The inspector will climb into the attic, crawl under the home or check out the basement, access the roof, and open every closet door in your home. They'll check the cabinets under sinks and the intakes of air conditioning units.
Inspectors will often use high-powered flashlights to search every corner of your property and will continually jot notes as they work. It's suggested that you walk along with them—as you would with any stranger—as they move through your home, but you're not be required to crawl under the house or onto the roof.
Let the inspector point out any defects they see. Carry a notepad with you and write them down, or take note of them on your smartphone. Ask questions about minor and major action items they might take note of.
Consider the size of your home, the number of systems to be inspected, the number of electrical and main panels, and the condition and age of the property. Inspections that take less than two to three hours might just be gloss-over inspections.
After the Inspection
Inspectors will usually take a few minutes to finalize their notes after they finish their reviews. The finalized report should take at least one to two days to complete. You might receive both an electronic and a hard copy of the report.