How to Select your Inspector
For most people, the purchase of a home is the largest investment they’ll ever make. Getting an independent, expert opinion on the operation ability 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Most Common Defects
No house is perfect. Even the best built and best maintained homes will always have a few items in less than perfect condition. Below are some of the items we most commonly find when inspecting a home:
- Roofing Problems with roofing material are the single most common defect we find. Usually it doesnt mean the roof needs replaced, simply that it is in need of maintenance or repair.
- Ceiling stains Caused by past or present leaks, ceiling stains are very common. It can be difficult to tell whether the stains are from leaks still present, or were caused by leaks which have since been repaired.
- Electrical hazards Most common in older homes, but often found in newer homes as well. Electrical hazards come in many forms, from ungrounded outlets to wiring done incorrectly by the homeowner.
- Rotted wood Caused by being wet for extended periods of time, most commonly found around tubs, showers and toilets inside, or roof eaves and trim outside.
- Water heater installations Many water heaters are not installed in full compliance with local plumbing code.
- Gas furnace Most gas furnaces seem to be in need of routine maintenance such as new filters or gas company certification at the least. Many have other issues such as faulty operation, improper venting, or inadequate fire clearance as well.
- Plumbing defects Plumbing issues commonly found include dripping faucets, leaking fixtures, slow drains etc… Even in brand new homes, it is common to identify minor plumbing defects.
What you can and should not expect from your home inspection
You Can Expect:
- A general evaluation of the condition, components, and systems, of the home.
- An inspection conducted in accordance with the standards of practice and code of ethics as put forth by the California Real Estate association, of which your inspector is an inspector member. A copy of these will be forwarded to you, if time allows, prior to the inspection, or presented on site, prior to inspecting. Copies are available on-line, as well, at www.creia.org
- An Inspection in accordance with our standard inspection agreement (Contract) which will be presented as above.
- Often, further evaluation may be necessary, by the appropriate professional in their field, for further review and/or cost estimates for repairs. Clients should obtain this information prior to close of escrow, to make an informed purchase decision.
What you should not expect of this inspection:
- This inspection is not intended to search for, or otherwise identify, molds, toxic substances, or any other environmental hazards, or toxins, of any kind. This should be a separate inspection, if desired, performed by appropriate professionals with the proper training and equipment as necessary for such inspections. (See our contract, and standards of practice, regarding this.)
- This inspection differs from a structural pest control inspection, and is no substitute for such an inspection. The two inspections do overlap in some areas, but work well in conjunction with each other. It is highly advisable to have both inspections performed, and, if possible, present the pest report to your home inspector, for review.
- It is not a substitute for full disclosure. A home inspector has but a few hours on site, while a seller has many years of insight about the home. Again, presenting disclosure documents to your inspector is beneficial, and aids the inspector in addressing any issues brought out through disclosure.
- Although your inspector will inspect the roof, (if accessible, and if it will not cause damage,) this is but one part of our inspection, and is not intended, nor should it be used for, a separate certification as required by some lenders. Home inspectors neither imply, nor offer any guarantee against roof leakage.
- Do not expect cost estimates, as there are always too many variables, and this is best left to the appropriate professionals in their field, who have the experience to give you an accurate estimate.
- Do not expect your inspector to find and report on every little thing. Your inspector is more concerned with the high cost items, and general condition of things. We charge accordingly. To identify every little thing would add much time to an inspection, and your inspector would have to charge much more for your inspection, making the inspection not cost effective, or desired. Often, smaller things are mentioned as a courtesy, but this is not meant to be an all inclusive list. Remember, this is an inspection of the general condition of things!
- This inspection is no substitute, nor should it be misconstrued in any fashion as to be a home warranty. That is a separate policy all together, and you should seek the advice of your real estate agent regarding such a home warranty.
- The bottom line is, although your inspector can reduce the risk involved with your home inspection, He/She can not eliminate such risk. This is just not a realistic expectation!
- Your inspector should not engage in, or offer to perform any repairs, nor should he/she make any specific recommendations of professionals, tradespersons, or repairmen that the inspector has any financial interest in, or stands to gain in any fashion from, such referrals. This is a violation of the code of ethics of the California Real Estate Inspection Association, and would be a conflict of interest regardless of whether the inspector is member or not.
How to Prepare for an Inspection
No home is perfect. Anything from major damage to minor maintenance issues are often found. Even new homes are not immune – they could have problems with the plumbing, electrical system, heating and cooling system, or the roofing system just to name a few.
For homeowners, it’s important to be aware of any issues your home may have prior to putting it on the market. Getting a pre-listing home inspection will ensure that you’re aware of any problems and can take care of them on your terms – or present them as-is and adjust your selling price proportionally. The alternative leaves you open to costly surprises and delays, and even potential deal-breakers once you’ve entered negotiations with the buyer.
For buyers, an inspection is vital to uncovering issues a home may have but are invisible to the untrained eye. Even if the inspection finds more problems than you’re comfortable with and you move on to a different home to start the process all over again, it’s money well spent. An inspection will give you the opportunity to ask the seller to make the repairs before you buy, or to back out of the contract. So be sure to ask for the “inspection contingency” when you begin to enter negotiations with the seller. This allows you to set a limit on the cost of repairs to the home. If the inspector estimates that repairs will cost more than the limit, the contract is voided. It is a good way to protect yourself from ending up with a home that requires repairs that you are unable or unwilling to pay for.
Before the inspector arrives, there are a few things you should know. There are no federal regulations governing inspectors. The laws are going to differ state by state. Therefore it’s important to interview your inspector or inspection company prior to hiring them. Since each state is going to have their own standards of certification for inspectors – and some don’t even have any – credibility is a big issue in choosing the right inspector. Ask what certifications your inspector holds and what associations he or she belongs to. Most associations such as the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), National Association of Certified Home Inspectors (NACHI), and National Association of Home Inspectors, Inc. (NAHI) have membership requirements that include minimum levels of experience and training as well as codes of ethics. There are also several state-level associations that your inspector may be a member of. Ask your inspector and then visit the association’s website.
Once your inspector has arrived, it is recommended that you accompany him or her on the inspection of the property after the inspector has had some time to begin inspecting your home. This is so you can become familiar with the home and its systems as well as exactly what repairs the inspector recommends and why. You might also want to prepare a list of items that you’ve seen in the home that you feel are cause for concern as well as any questions you may have. The inspection is a great time to find out where the home’s water and gas shutoffs are and where the fuse box is.
Here are some other suggestions for homeowners:
- Accessibility: Make sure that all areas of the home are accessible, especially to the attic and crawl space. It’s also a good idea to trim any trees and shrubs that may make an inspection of the exterior of the property difficult.
- Housekeeping: The inspector may photograph your home for the inspection report, so clearing the clutter and moving vehicles from the front of the home will help the inspection go smoother.
- Maintenance: Repair minor things like leaky faucets, missing door handles and trim.
Any questions, please call your inspector or contact me here!
Related Article: What is a Home Inspection?