Many consumers believe that all home inspectors are licensed and trained. Nothing could be further from the truth. In most states, anyone can buy an occupational license and call themselves a Tampa home inspector. Less than a dozen states have licensing programs that require experience and recognized testing. Some states have minimal requirements. Caveat Emptor. You can find your state's licensing requirements on the ASHI web site by clicking here.
There are huge differences between home inspectors. Like all professions or trades, the majority are rather mediocre. A small percentage are spectacularly bad. An even smaller percentage are very, very good. You want one of the the very good ones. Your home is often the largest investment of your life. Take some time to make sure you are hiring someone you can trust to do an excellent job and to look out for your interests above all others.
A referral from a friend or co-worker is good place to start. But you should still do a little more homework before choosing an inspector.
The majority of homebuyer's rely on their real estate agent for a referral to an inspector, but there's an inherent conflict of interest present. Here's a dirty little secret. Many home inspectors are dependent upon agent referrals to stay in business. As a result, they tend to minimize defects to keep the referring agents happy. Obviously, this is not in your best interest.
Many agents categorize inspectors into three groups:
- The inspectors they recommend when it's their listing. These are the guys with poor eyesight and dull pencils.
- The inspectors they recommend when they're acting as buyer's agents.
- The inspectors they recommend to their relatives. This is the inspector you want. He's the one they NEVER recommend, except when a friend or relative is buying a home.
This may be the only business where the referring marketplace punishes those who do the best job!
Of course not every agent is waiting to take advantage of you, there are certainly ethical agents who want their clients to get the best inspection possible. If you are comfortable with your agent, by all means listen to their advice. But you still might want to use the following list of questions to make sure your making the right decision.
Check with the Better Business Bureau for unresolved complaints. You might also want to check with your local court system for judgments entered against the company. Try searching Google.com for "Judgment" and your County name.
Here's a list of questions you can use to make sure you are hiring a qualified home inspector.
- How long have you been in business?
Experience counts in this business. There is no substitute. Don't hire anyone who's been in business for less than five years. On the other hand, there are inspectors who have been around for years who do a crummy job. With no training and no continuing education, they often don't realize how sub-standard they are.
- Are you licensed as a home inspector?
If your state requires licensing, this is a no-brainer. There are inspectors out there operating illegally.
- Do you have any other qualifications?
Most good inspectors have other credentials, such as a contractors license or certification from a Building Code Organization.
- Do you have any formal training?
The majority of home inspectors don't. Most of us get formal training at weekend seminars or conferences. Good home inspectors sit through more than 50 hours of educational sessions each year.
- What did you do before you got into the inspection business?
A background in construction or engineering is preferable. The more experience your inspector has, the better. Avoid someone who was selling shoes last year.
- Will you be doing my inspection personally?
Make sure you know who will be doing your inspection. You want the boss, not a trainee.
- What Associations do you belong to?
If your home inspector doesn't belong to a couple of home inspection associations, he's operating in his own little world of limited knowledge and experience. ASHI members agree to inspect to a recognized Standard of Practice and agree to adhere to a Code of Ethics. Don't even think of hiring someone who's not a member of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors. Learn more about ASHI here.
Don't be confused by "certifications" sold by trade organizations. Many require nothing more than a check. I know of two dogs that became certified home inspectors. Here's an investigative report on one association: http://www.thepittsburghchannel.com/team4/3405354/detail.html
- What Standard do you use for inspecting?
Many uneducated inspectors don't use any recognized standard of practice. The ASHI Standard of Practice are the most widely recognized. Your state may have it's own standard. You'll find it's based upon the ASHI Standards or it is the ASHI Standards. Other home inspection organizations have standards of practice. Most of these parallel the ASHI Standards.
- How long will the inspection take?
There's no one right answer to this question. Each inspection is different. Older or larger homes take longer. Homes on slabs are easier than homes with crawl spaces. At minimum, any home will take 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours of time to perform the inspection and write the report. We sometimes spend 5 or 6 hours on a larger or older home.
- Can I attend the inspection with you?
Make sure your inspector allows you to attend the inspection. If not, be wary. Being at the inspection and seeing the problems will greatly increase your understanding of the problems.
Most real estate contracts make the buyer liable for any damage done by the inspector. Make sure he carries liability insurance.
- Can I see a sample report?
Looking at a sample report is the single best method of comparing home inspectors. Much of what we do involves written communication. The report is the work product of the inspector. Make sure it's in a well organized format you can understand. Be sure it all makes sense. If the inspector is reluctant to show you a sample of his work, run. Click here to see our samples: Sample Reports
The most advanced inspectors take digital photos of defects and print them, often on site. Photos make it easier for everyone to understand the problem. Especially when the problem is where you can't get to it. Like the roof or the crawl space.
- What percentage of your business comes from Real Estate Agents?
Be wary of anyone who receives more than half of their referrals from agents. They may be worrying about the next referral more than they are worrying about your new home.
Fees vary widely. You'll find that inspectors who have been around a long time and do a good job tend to charge more. It's like anything else. You get what you pay for. In fact, you can probably judge the skill level of the inspector by the price he charges. And in this case, you want the best, not the cheapest. Most real estate contracts require the seller to repair defects found during the inspection. Missing even one of these defects will end up costing you money. Need more convincing? Think about this. If O. J. Simpson had hired the cheapest attorney he could find, do you think he would be out playing golf, a free man?
We recommend you print and save this page to assist you in selecting a competent home inspector.View a sample home inspection report: Sample Reports