Hiring Your Own Home Inspector

a home inspector inspecting a house with a tablet in hand

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When looking for a qualified home inspector, your first thought may well be to ask your real estate agent. After all, he has gotten you this far. On the other hand, your agent is probably anxious to close the deal and collect the commission, so is he likely to recommend someone who'll raise red flags?

Most likely, your agent can be trusted to recommend a home inspector who'll be honest, objective and thorough. But, as when soliciting any recommendation, a lot depends on how you feel about the recommender. A home inspector whom a buyer's agent recommends is most likely of the same caliber as the agent.

What Your Agent Knows About Home Inspectors

A novice agent might not have much experience with local home inspection experts at all. But an agent with many years in the business most likely maintains a list of reputable home inspectors.

Agents work with many of the same inspectors over and over and can witness firsthand their effectiveness and thoroughness (or lack thereof). Real estate is a small, local world, and word gets around about bad home inspectors. A qualified home inspector is important to an agent's business: Agents don't want a finger pointed at them if the inspection misses a serious defect.

Trusting the Recommendation

This concern for reputation is why you can most likely trust the people your agent recommends. Not every buyer's agent puts the client's interest first all the time, admittedly. But no reputable real estate agent would withhold information from a buyer or induce a third-party vendor to withhold information. It would be extreme—not to mention actionable—for an agent to collude with an inspector to provide a faulty report.

Agents want their buyers to have full disclosure and be fully informed; those who aren't will come back to haunt their agents after closing. More importantly, duped clients won't refer anyone else to them, and given the word-of-mouth nature of the real-estate business, that's the kiss of death.

Besides, a home inspector's negative findings don't necessarily mean a deal is off. Buyer's agents can negotiate repairs or cash credits as compensation. Only as a last resort do they advise the buyer to walk away if the home inspection reflects too many problems.

What to Expect from a Home Inspector

Agents know what you should expect from the inspector—for starters, an exhaustive and complete written report, 20 pages or more. But it should be objective and devoid of editorial sentiment. The commentary should detail different elements of the home but never offer sweeping generalizations about it. Nor should it give price estimates for repairs.

Frankly, agents' usual problem with home inspectors is not so much that they'll whitewash certain defects as that they'll induce panic. A deal killer is not a home inspector who discloses, instead, a deal killer is a home inspector who makes mountains out of molehills and doesn't know how to properly communicate with a buyer. Here is how a good home inspector would disclose, say, a problem with the HVAC system:

  • "The differential readings are low. This could mean the unit is low on refrigerant, or it could be something more serious. I recommend that you hire a licensed HVAC contractor to further inspect the furnace and air conditioning. The HVAC system is near its economic end of life, and you may want to gather bids to replace the system."

A deal-killer home inspector, on the other hand, may approach the same situation like this:

  • "I'm worried that the furnace is going to explode at any minute. Stand back. That air conditioning unit will cost $20,000 to replace. Man, I would not buy this deathtrap of a house."

Ask Questions

In an industry where 10% of the real estate agents sell about 90% of the homes, some agents may not have enough direct experience to know which home inspectors are thorough and qualified.

Ask your agent frankly how comfortable she feels making recommendations. Request several names, and when you get them, don't hesitate to pose more questions:

  • How often have you worked with this inspector?
  • Why would that person be a good choice for this job?
  • Is the company familiar with this area or type of residence?

If someone else you know has recently used or can recommend a home inspector, run that name by the agent.

You don't have to go with your agent's referral. But if you do, your chances of finding someone competent are certainly better than plucking a home inspector out of the phone book or an online directory.

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, DRE # 00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.