Hiring an unqualified home inspector can be bad news for a buyer. In the worst cases it could even lead the seller to cancel the home sale, but there are steps you can take to ensure that you're working with an inspector who is professional and qualified. These steps can range from the very simple, such as checking their license or credentials, to the more involved, such as asking to see former reports they have created for other buyers.
Learn how to make sure the person you hire is properly representing himself, and what steps you can take to assure that you're getting the best service you can get during your home inspection.
- The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) vigorously tests candidates and mandates that they complete 250 paid inspections for certification.
- Search for complaints online and with the Better Business Bureau for any inspector you plan to hire.
- An inspection report should cover all systems in your home with enough detail to establish that proper repairs may be needed.
- Beware of conflicts of interest, such as an inspector referring a specific contractor for any repairs they suggest.
Check Credentials and Qualifications
There's no shortage of home inspector associations. One of the oldest and best-known is the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). This group requires that people who wish to become certified must pass an exam and complete at least 250 paid inspections. The ASHI offers standards of practice and touts a code of ethics, both of which set the bar for home inspectors to become professionally licensed or certified. It also provides a full list of the rules of each state, which you can refer to on its website.
Each state has its own set of standards that a home inspection must meet, as well as precise rules that a person must follow to be licensed to perform this work.
You can also ask friends to refer someone they know and trust, or ask your real estate agent for a recommendation. Even if you go this route, it's wise to conduct your own research on the inspector's qualifications and credentials. Go online, and search for any complaints made against the person you're thinking of hiring, as well as any good reviews.
You might also want to check with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to see whether the inspector you select is accredited. The BBB collects reviews from clients and other sources, and it may also have rankings or rewards that apply.
Ask your home inspector whether they have errors and omissions (E&O) insurance as well. This is a form of insurance that intends to protect both the inspector and the client against any losses that may occur because of an oversight on the inspector's part.
Some less-than-honest real estate agents may refer lousy home inspectors, because they don't want a full-blown inspection that could hamper their deal. Good agents will demand qualified inspectors, because they want their buyers to be informed.
Review a Sample Report
A good home inspector should agree to send you a sample report. Don't hire someone whose report is only a few pages long, as that would be a major red flag. Report lengths can vary, but a standard complete version will be between 15 and 70 pages. Reports should also contain color pictures that highlight defects or problems, and full details of any repairs or updates the home may need.
Here are the main features a good report should cover:
- Interior features
- Exterior conditions
The report should detail the current state of each of these systems or parts of the home, as well as what repairs, if any, are needed. They may have a rating system to assign to each factor, so you know how badly a repair is needed, or whether something can wait a while. A good home inspector will be thorough, honest, 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.
Know the Scope of Service
Issues that plague homes often relate to their specific location. Houses near the ocean, for example, may suffer from more rust or decay from salty air. Houses in places with extreme weather may be more subject to roof damage. There are places where termites are a major issue, or soil has eroded. The basic home inspection covers a range of items that are required by the state, but there may be other issues that are not part of the standard process. Your inspection might also include testing the air quality of the home for mold. Homes with basements will often include radon checks for an extra fee.
A good home inspector will offer the full picture of what they find. They do not have a duty to go above and beyond the basics, but if they catch an additional issue and share what they found, that would be a good sign of an honest job. Most home inspectors don't perform a full pest inspection, for instance, but they might note in their reports any damage that they see.
Avoid Inspectors Who Refer Contractors
Home inspectors are in the business of inspecting homes, so there's a chance they 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 suggests repairs.
Some state rules allow an inspector to take on 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 repair work should be handled by licensed contractors who can be warrantied.
Make sure your home inspector gets permits for repairs from your local building authority, which is most often the city.
Prepare to Spend Some Length of Time
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 all of the closet doors in your home. They'll check the cabinets, under sinks, behind vents, the intakes of air conditioning units, and much more.
Inspectors will often use strong flashlights to search each corner of your home and yard and jot notes as they work. You may wish to walk along with them—as you would with any stranger—as they move through your home. This is common practice, except when they crawl under the house or onto the roof.
Let the inspector point out any defects they see. Carry a notebook with you, and write it all down, or keep notes on your smartphone. Ask questions about all minor and major action items they might make note of so you can prepare for what's next.
There are many factors at play, such as the size of your home, the number of systems it has, how complex the are, the number of electrical and main panels, and current state and age of the home. Inspections that take less than two to three hours might just be glossing over many parts.
What Happens After the Inspection?
Home inspectors will often need a few minutes to wrap up their notes after they finish their reviews. The final report should take at least one to two days to complete. You might receive both an email version of the report and a hard copy in the mail.