How to Choose a Home Inspector

How to Choose a Home Inspector

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Everyone has to start somewhere in their career. That said, considering you’re about to make one of the largest purchases of your life, you probably don’t want to rely on someone with minimal industry experience. Save yourself the future headache and make it a point to hire an inspector who is familiar with the type of home you are buying.

Look at home inspection as an education

Both buyers and sellers regard a home inspection with some level of dread. But for the buyer, the home inspection is a wonderful opportunity to become a more educated homeowner, Jeff Miller, co-founder of AE Home Group and Dependable Homebuyers, wants you to know. Don’t know how to maintain your heating system or how often you should clean your gutters? The inspection is the perfect the time to ask, Miller advises. Here are 35 things every homeowner should know before signing on the dotted line.

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How real estate agents can help their clients choose a home inspector

Real estate agents often play a big role in their clients’ home inspector choices. If you’re a REALTOR®, you’ll need to understand why it’s important to assist your client in making this choice — and how to help them make the right one.

Why should you help your client choose a home inspector?

While it might seem like a conflict of interest (and some clients will prefer to choose the inspector themselves for this reason), in reality, you want your client to get a thorough home inspection of the property they’re considering.

After all, it’s not in your best interest for your clients to be left ignorant of major problems with the property they’re purchasing, because once those problems pop up, that client will be dissatisfied with their purchase.

An unhappy prior customer is never a good thing for a real estate agent.

As an agent who cares about customer satisfaction, your priority should be making sure your clients are getting a house they’ll be happy with in the long-term. And if you’re a seller’s agent, you will want to help them receive thorough and honest feedback on their home so that they can be prepared for negotiations with the buyer.

Since a quality inspection is helpful to your clients whether they’re buying or selling, it follows that you would benefit from getting involved in the process of choosing a home inspector.

As a professional in the field, you’ll have access to many inspectors and will know what to look for. You’ll develop lasting relationships with quality inspectors in your area and know who to recommend, which will be an excellent way to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise to your clients.

How do you help your client find a home inspector?

As a professional in the industry, a real estate agent can be an excellent resource for matching clients with other industry professionals. If you’ve been in your area for a long time, it’s natural to develop relationships with a few other local pros, like inspectors, appraisers, plumbers, and contractors.

Your client will most likely ask for your advice on finding a trustworthy home inspection company. To help them make a decision, you should first make sure you understand your client’s needs. Are they concerned with specific issues, like checking for radon? Do they need extra-communicative service from an inspector who can explain what they’re doing in-depth?

When you’re considering a new home inspector, here are some qualities to look for:

  • They demonstrate a willingness to communicate. They return messages promptly and converse easily with your clients.
  • Their inspection company is licensed, bonded, and insured.
  • They have positive reviews or referrals.
  • They have experience with the type of property you need to be inspected.
  • They allow you and your client to accompany them on the inspection.
  • Their sample home inspection report is sophisticated and readable.

Also, it’s helpful to understand whether the home inspector might have a potential conflict of interest. Do they have financial ties or business relationships with other industry professionals, like real estate brokerages or contractors? You’ll want to help your client find an unbiased source of information on the property in question, and financial ties with other interests might cause unwanted bias.

If you want the sale of your home to go smoothly

…have the house inspected before you put it on the market. Working with me can give you time to find a reasonably priced contractor or to make the repairs yourself. If you’re hiring a contractor, don’t miss these secrets all contractors want first-time home buyers to know about.

Make sure they’re bonded and insured

Performing a home inspection carries a certain amount of risk. For example, you can expect the person you hire to climb up to the attic, peek around the crawl space, and maneuver through your basement. But what happens if an uninsured inspector suffers an injury while conducting business in your residence? Well, as unfair as it may seem, you would be the responsible party. That’s why we advise only dealing with a home inspector who is bonded and insured.

What to expect on inspection day

Inspection day is finally here, but what can you — as the buyer — really expect from the day? You will want to feel prepared for the inspection. Be aware of what the inspector should be looking for (more on this below!). Bring a pen and paper along with you to take notes on what the inspector finds, and be sure to allow the inspector to do their job. If you feel they aren’t being thorough enough, say something.

Burlison recommends that her buyers be present at the inspection. “It’s valuable to be able to go through the inspection with the inspector one-on-one and look at the items [the inspector] feels needs care or maintenance,” she explains.

Attending the inspection can also take some mystery out of the inspection report because you are better able to understand what items the report is referring to. If you’re unable to go to the inspection, your agent can attend on your behalf to observe any notable findings that may be used as leverage during negotiations.

The seller and the listing agent generally won’t be present during the inspection. It’s also a good idea not to have friends and family present, or other professionals (like a general contractor) so you can allow the inspector to do their job with minimal interference.

Things the inspector should check during your home inspection include:

  • Home exterior
  • Roof (if visible; if it’s covered in snow the inspector cannot inspect it)
  • Garage
  • Crawl space or basement
  • Attic space
  • HVAC
  • Electrical
  • Plumbing
  • Windows/doors
  • Interior condition
  • Floors
  • Pest inspection
  • Water/fire/mold inspection
  • Foundation
  • Structural components

Keep in mind that elements that can’t easily be inspected visually might not be checked. For example, the inspector won’t be tearing open walls or inspecting potential issues that they cannot see.

Burlison tells her clients to expect the inspection to take roughly one hour for every 1,000 square feet. This is a rough guide to know how long it will take, and often older homes may take longer as they tend to have more wear and tear. Additionally, smaller homes may take less time to inspect, and the home’s layout may also affect the length of the inspection.

Once the inspection is complete, you should expect to receive the inspection report within a few days. When you get the report, you and your agent can review it and decide if renegotiations are necessary.

Source: (Jesus Rodriguez / Flickr via Creative Com
Source: (Jesus Rodriguez / Flickr via Creative Commons Legal Code)

Interview Your Potential Candidates

Once you have a reputable inspector in mind, reach out to them. There are several questions you will want to verify before moving forward. Here are a few questions to ask your inspector before hiring them.

Are you certified and licensed? Some states don’t require a certification or a license. However, most new home buyers seek to find a certified inspector. If your home inspector has a certification or license, you will know that they have been professionally trained and had to complete course work.

Are you insured and bonded? By having insurance, the home inspector is covered in the case that there’s a mistake in their inspection report and the new homeowner decides to take legal action. For example, if the inspector misses something that ends up costing thousands of dollars in repairs and the inspector doesn’t carry error and omissions insurance, the buyer is liable and will have to pay for correcting the mistake.

Are you a full-time home inspector? If they are, then you know that the demand for their services is high enough to make a living out of it, possibly indicating that they are good at what they do.

How long will the inspection take? If it takes less than two hours, the home inspector may not be spending enough time to do a thorough inspection.

Will you provide a full report of the inspection? What will this report include? Does it include pictures? Do you have a sample? How long will it take for me to receive it? By asking to see a sample, you can determine if you’ll be able to understand the reporting style. Also, you should be able to receive a report within 24 hours of the inspection (pending any home tests that need longer to be completed).

Are you a member of a professional home inspector association? Some of the largest associations include the National Institute of Building Inspectors (NIBI)the American Home Inspectors Training (AHIT)the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) and National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI). If they are members of any of these organizations, ask for their membership ID.

How do you keep your expertise up to date? What training do you have? This will give you an idea of how serious and professional the home inspector is. A good inspector will stay up to date on their training.

Can I get names and contact information of your last three references? You’re really interviewing this person for a job. It makes sense that you do your due diligence before trusting them with such a large purchase.

What a Home Inspection Covers

Inspectors vary in experience, ability, and thoroughness, but a good inspector should examine certain home components and then produce a report covering their findings. The typical inspection lasts two to three hours, and you should be present for the inspection to get a firsthand explanation of the inspector's findings and, if necessary, ask questions. Also, any problems the inspector uncovers will make more sense if you see them in person instead of relying solely on the snapshot photos in the report.

The inspector should note:

  • Whether each problem is a safety issue, major defect, or minor defect
  • Which items need replacement and which should be repaired or serviced
  • Items that are suitable for now but that should be closely monitored

An excellent inspector will even tell you about routine maintenance that should be performed, which can be a great help if you are a first-time homebuyer

While it is impossible to list everything an inspector could check for, the following home inspection checklist for buyers should give you a general idea of what to expect.

Evaluating home inspectors in your area

One great way to determine which home inspector to hire is to compare their previous home inspection reports.

Ask the finalists on your list to provide you with a sample report that they’ve completed for a similar home to the one you’re considering purchasing. The report should show you how much work they’re going to do, how organized they are, and how in-depth they’ll go when inspecting the property.

Also, be sure to keep in mind their experience. Someone who has inspected many similar homes will know what to look for and will have experience with a wide variety of potential issues with the house.

An inspector’s experience is especially important if the house is older and has the potential for more problems. If that’s the case, you might even consider looking for an inspector with additional credentials, like an engineer’s license.

Finally, ask the potential inspector what services are included in their quoted price. Many home inspectors’ prices will range from $300-$600, depending on the age and size of the home, its location, and the services they are performing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions such as:

  • Does the inspector use an infrared camera to check for leaks and wall or ceiling damage?
  • Do they use a drone to check the status of the roof?
  • Do they climb up on the roof themselves to get a closer look?
  • Do they offer any specialized services, like radon tests?

It doesn’t hurt to understand how extensive the inspector’s process will be — and how much bang you’ll be getting for your buck.

How Much Does a Mold Inspection Cost on a Home?

The cost of a mold inspection can cost up to $1000 or as little as $295. It will depend on a few factors, including the inspector doing the job, the size and location of the home.

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Choosing the Right Home Inspector

Because a home inspection protects you, the buyer, you’ll pay for the home inspection. You have the right to hire any inspector you choose, and here are some guidelines for doing so:

Think Twice About Agent Referrals

It’s common for real estate agents to recommend home inspectors, but it’s not necessarily to your advantage to take that advice at face value. Agents are naturally interested in inspectors who are available on short notice and can help close a deal quickly. While you may also be keen to finalize a sale, sourcing an inspector who prioritizes thoroughness over speed could be to your benefit, particularly if you’re buying an older home. The agent’s recommendations can be in the mix, but consider vetting a few others as well.

Find Your Own Candidates

To look for an inspector yourself, enter your ZIP code into the websites for industry trade groups American Society of Home Inspectors and International Association of Certified Home Inspectors to get accredited inspectors in your area. If you’re subscribed to Angi (formerly Angie’s List), you’ll find many inspectors there as well, along with customer reviews.

Check With the Better Business Bureau

Once you have a short list of choices, run their names through the Better Business Bureau directory to check for complaints lodged against them. This isn’t exactly comprehensive, but it only takes a few minutes, and it could help you rule out problem candidates.

Ask Questions

Once you’ve got your list of finalists, get in touch and take the following steps:

  • Ask for sample reports. Reviewing an inspection report can give you an idea of how thoroughly the inspector will delve into a property. Ideally, you’ll get a report for a property similar in age and attributes (deck, fireplace, roof type and the like) to the one you hope to buy.
  • Ask about additional tests they recommend. There can be a fine line between upselling and necessary care, but there are many cases where testing can be advisable (and worth the extra cost they entail), such as:
    • Home-specific issues: Based on the age and attributes of the house, specific tests may be advisable. An older home is more likely to have pest infestation or chimney problems than a newer one. Properties that have been vacant a while may be likelier to have hidden mold and certain roof or deck designs and materials, and they may warrant closer inspection.
    • Issues based on climate and geology: Even if you’re an experienced homeowner, if you’re moving to a new region of the country, there may be local concerns you don’t know to look for. Southern climates foster different insects than northern ones, for instance; mold infestation may be likelier in humid climates and flood plains; and some regions’ geology is more prone than others to emit radon, the naturally occurring gas that’s second only to smoking as a source of lung cancer. These are issues you’ll want to take into account before you close a sale.

The Bottom Line

A thorough home inspection is no minor expense, but it can pay for itself many times over if it uncovers an expensive repair issue you can have the seller address, or that you can cover by reducing the sale price on a home purchase. Choosing an inspector carefully can make you feel better about finalizing your purchase and beginning life in your new house.

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