5 Big Questions For New Home Buyers #4: How Do I Find A Good Home Inspector?

As I begin the process of locating and buying my first home, my mind is loaded with questions. This week, I’m answering the five biggest ones (for me, at least) in detail. Other questions involve a home buying gameplan, true home ownership costs, hiring an agent, and closing costs.

To me, the home inspection process seemed like a big mystery. I understand the purpose: to make sure there aren’t any major hidden issues with a property you’re buying. For example, is there black mold hidden behind those walls? This could be potentially hazardous to your family’s health and your home insurance. But I didn’t know what you should look for in an inspector or what you should expect from one, either.

So, I spent some time doing some research into finding a good home inspector. Surprisingly, it’s not nearly as cut and dried as I thought it might be at first; the legwork will take you nearly as long as it does to find an agent – but it can really be worth it.

First, build a list of potential inspectors. You can do this by asking around through your social network. Look for people that have a positive reference. You might also ask this of each agent that you interview as well, just so you can get more references, though agents may simply point out home inspectors that don’t give them much trouble. Look for inspectors that get lots of references because they likely do a good job.

Once you have a list, check and see if they’re members of the American Society of Home Inspectors. You can do this at their website, www.ashi.com. Although it isn’t a requirement per se, an ASHI membership is a good indication of a quality inspector, simply because it guarantees some level of quality (testing) and persistence (at least 250 inspections) in your home inspector.

You should interview at least three inspectors. It’s really hard to get a grasp on what a good inspector is if you’re unfamiliar with the process, so you should meet a few and get an idea of what they’re like.

Now, set up interviews with your potential inspectors and ask them to bring copies of one of their inspection reports. They should do this (with the private information blotted out). If they say they give verbal reports only, back away slowly – then run.

Here are nine questions you should ask during the interview:

  1. Are you a full time professional property inspector? The only acceptable answer is yes. If you get anything else, run.
  2. What can you tell me about yourself and your company? Let them make the pitch to you a bit.
  3. Do you carry insurance? Let them answer this. If they don’t specifically mention it, ask them about error-and-omission insurance, which basically covers anything that they miss during the inspection.
  4. How many inspections do you do in an average year? Under 50 makes the “full time professional inspector” statement into question. More than 400 or so means that they might not be doing quality inspections or writing great reports.
  5. What does your inspection cover? This should include everything you can think of and more. If it seems like they’re omitting something, ask directly about it.
  6. Will your report include an estimate of the repair costs? If they answer yes, run away because they’re trying to sell something. You just want an inspection so you can tell the seller what needs to be fixed.
  7. How much does the inspection cost? This question really doesn’t matter too much. The only thing you should avoid is anything that seems exceptionally low.
  8. Can I have some references? They should give you as many as you want. If not, there’s something odd going on.
  9. Can I come along during the inspection? Any answer other than yes is a big, big red flag. You should go along during the inspection.

You should also compare the reports that each potential inspector gives you. These should not be one page documents with a bunch of checkboxes. The more detail, the better (usually).

After all this, hopefully the best inspector will emerge and you can hire an inspector. Good luck! One more thing, though: even after all this, you should hire a pest control inspection as well. This will cost between $100 and $200 and can usually be handled by a group like Terminix pretty well.

Tomorrow, we’ll finish up this series with a look at closing costs.

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  1. Heather says:

    Although architects do not fit your “must do home inspections full time” requirement, I have met some who do it on the side and have found that because they understand how buildings are constructed and the systems that go into buildings, they can do just as good a job as a “full time” inspector.

  2. J.D. @ Get Rich Slowly says:

    My #1 tip for finding a home inspector is to ask your friends. This isn’t fool-proof, but it’s an excellent start. When we bought our second house three years ago, we asked our friends from recommendations. When the same guy was recommended three times, we knew we had a winner. Now we make sure to recommend him, too. I’d even link to his web site, but it seems to have been swallowed due to failure to renew. (Oops.)

  3. Daniel Sweet says:

    Whatever you do, *always* get your own inspection.

    I know a guy in the business and he says that lots of folks get an inspection done by their mortgage company / builder and say, “Okay!”

    The problem is that the inspection companies are beholden to the mortgage or building company because they provide so much business. And nobody there wants any delay in the home purchase.

    So, the inspector will often “not notice” many things, so the deal gets closed and he gets more business.

    ALWAYS get your own inspection.

    Dan

  4. Grant says:

    This is similar to Dan’s comment above. Do not use an inspector that is recommended by your real estate agent–find one on your own. The real estate agent’s motivation is just to make the transaction go through as quickly as possible and they’ll only recommend an inspector that is going to give problem-free inspection reports (for the most part).

    Good article, Trent!

  5. Amy says:

    I haven’t had an inspection done, so I don’t know whether the report would have included an estimate of the costs of repairs, but I would think that that would be an important thing to know! As long as the home inspector isn’t also a contractor, they aren’t trying to sell you something, but are pointing out potential expenses you’d need to consider before making an offer!

  6. Mike says:

    @Amy,

    You are right that the inspector is not a contractor. Therefore it is not his place to make an estimate of the cost. The home inspection reports should only tell you what needs to be fixed and what condition the house is in (including the estimated condition/age of things like the water heater and heating/cooling system). Knowing this you can then get quotes from contractors and negotiate a lower price or negotiate that the sell remedy certain things and retain the current offer/counter-offer price already “agreed” upon. Your agent should be familiar with this process (negotiating/re-negotiating price based on home inspection).

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