For most people, the purchase of a home is the largest investment they’ll ever make. Getting an independent, expert opinion on the operability of the structure and its systems is a no-brainer. But not all home inspectors have the same experience, training, or certifications – what’s more is there are currently no federal regulations governing home inspectors. Home inspectors are governed only by whatever laws are in place in the state in which the inspection is performed, and these laws vary greatly. So how do you make sure you’ve hired the right person for the job?
When shopping for a home inspector, it’s vital that you do your homework and interview each inspector based on the checklist below.
Ask to see one of their inspection reports. At the conclusion of any inspection, you should receive a report on the inspector’s findings. Again, inspectors are going to vary widely – report styles can range from the minimal checklist to the jargon-filled narrative. Inspection reports can be difficult to understand, so it’s important that you check out a sample report. Items marked as “fair”, “poor”, or “inadequate” without any further explanation will not help you understand what the problem is or what exactly to repair. Make sure that the inspector always specifies the exact problem and recommended repairs. The inspector should also indicate an estimated cost of any repairs he or she recommends.
- Do not price shop. When hiring a home inspector, you’re basically hiring an advocate with your interests in mind to give you their expert opinion on the home’s condition. With that in mind, making sure that you’re hiring an inspector with plenty of knowledge and training means not shopping for one by price alone. Training, certifications, and continuing education don’t come cheap to the inspectors and therefore, their expertise isn’t going to be cheap either. When it comes to home inspections – as with most things – you get what you pay for.
- Research their credentials. Since there are no national standards for home inspectors, one of the best things you can do to find out about an inspector’s qualifications is to ask what associations they belong to. Some associations require minimum training, experience, continuing education and also require the inspector pass certain exams. However, not all associations are created equal. Check out the associations’ minimum requirements. The best associations require that the inspector pass yearly exams and obtain a specific amount of continuing education credits. Also find out what level of the association the inspector occupies. Some associations have “candidate” and “associate” or other levels that basically mean that the inspector has not met the requirements to be a full member. Also ask what certifications the inspector holds and then research them as well.
- Ask for references. An inspector should be happy to provide you with three references from previous clients. Call those clients and ask them about their experience with their inspections.
- Make sure they’re insured. A professional inspector should be insured for “errors and omissions”, commonly called E&O insurance. This means that if the inspector misses something during the inspection, you can file a claim against that insurance for the repairs of the problem. Also, check the inspector’s contract for limited liability clauses that limit their responsibility for damages.
- Make your own decision. Some states allow real estate agents and other professionals to make recommendations on what home inspector to hire. Besides the obvious conflict of interest issues, a recommendation does not necessarily guarantee that the inspector is the best choice. Make your own decision based on your research.