I asked John Reim, from Bee Sure Home Inspection Services, to write a guest post this week on how to choose a home inspector. As with real estate attorneys, your realtor may have recommendations but you need to be armed with a bit more information so that you are not at the mercy of your realtor. After all, your realtor may have a fairly obvious agenda.
A home inspection is a comprehensive visual examination of the physical structure and systems of a home, from the foundation to the roof. A home inspector is trained to be a detective in regard to the construction and working parts of homes.
Buying a home can be stressful and requires countless important decisions. When you find a house you should hire a thorough home inspector to inspect the condition of the home and give you a detailed home inspection report. Hiring a home inspector is a wise decision, even when buying a newly constructed home. Having a detailed inspection report before you move in will prepare you for any potential problems and set your mind at ease.
Why hire a home inspector?
A home purchase may be the largest investment of your life. Before you purchase the property you should learn as much as you can about the home and its systems, including what may need to be repaired and what kind of lifespan is remaining on the major systems.
A home inspection will also point out the positive aspects of a home, as well as required ongoing maintenance that will be needed to keep the property in good shape. By having a professional home inspection you will have a clearer understanding of the home you are purchasing so you can make a confident decision.
What if the home inspection reveals problems?
If a home inspection reveals problems it does not necessarily mean you should not purchase the home. The home inspection is meant to educate you in advance of the purchase of the condition of the property. Quite often, a home inspection and its findings become a vital tool in the negotiation process between the buyer and seller of the property. A home inspector is barred by law from providing an opinion to the question “should I buy this house?” or “if it were you, would you buy this house?” Ultimately it is up to the buyer, their agent, and the attorney to decide which inspection items you wish to pursue for repairs or credits. It is suggested that you try to avoid minor items and pursue the larger items in order to avoid unnecessary conflicts. Keep in mind that there is no such thing as a “perfect house” and all homes have some type(s) of deficiencies. It is your responsibility to be an informed buyer. You should always be sure the house you purchase is satisfactory. A careful examination of your potential new home is crucial in this process and could save you a great deal of money in the long run. Potential problems that are identified in the inspection will often require further evaluation by specific specialists (i.e. HVAC professionals, Electrical Contractors, Roofing Specialists) to determine courses of action for repair/replacement or cost estimates. The inspector is not a specialist, but is rather a generalist, with training and education which can help them identify potential problems with the major systems of your home.
How do I choose a Home Inspector?
What will it cost?
First, always take the time to research any home inspectors you consider hiring. The most common question a home inspector receives during the hiring process is “how much does the inspection cost?” This is often the first question asked as most homebuyers are unaware of what else to ask. Keep in mind that home inspections are similar to other purchases that you make on an everyday basis, in that you often get what you pay for. Since a home is without a doubt the single largest investment you will ever make it does not make sense to skimp on the inspection in order to save a few dollars. Beware that like in any other business there are inspectors out there that will do your job on the cheap in order to make a quick dime. The risk with this is of course having an inspection that is not overly thorough and might just do what is required to meet the minimum standards. Though cost is certainly a relevant question, there are many other more important factors to consider when choosing an inspector.
How long have you been inspecting houses?
Ask your potential inspector how long they have been in business. Many “newbie” inspectors will charge lower fees but may have very little experience when it comes to performing residential inspections. These inspectors may or may not be around a year or two down the road to answer questions or address potential problems should they arise. Ask how long they have been inspecting homes and how many inspections they have performed.
Is the inspector licensed?
Do not hire an inspector that is not fully licensed. Though the state does a fairly good job of regulating the inspection industry, there are still incidences where inspectors are performing inspections without proper state licensing. This is illegal and should you find an inspector who is not licensed you are encouraged to report them to the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation. State licensed inspectors are required to follow a strict guide of ethics and inspect to state standards.
Is the inspector fully insured?
It is a good idea to make sure your inspector is fully insured to protect your investment. A reputable inspector should carry both general liability and errors and omissions insurance. This protects the buyer should the inspector accidentally miss something critical during the inspection process.
What is the inspector’s background and history?
Get some background on your potential inspector. For instance, find out what they did prior to becoming a home inspector. Though not required, an inspector with past experience in the building trades would be a better candidate than one who was previously a circus clown. Some inspectors may have previously been tradesman in certain areas such as plumbing, electrical, or HVAC. Though they may have extensive knowledge of these particular systems, keep in mind that a good inspector is knowledgeable in all areas of the home. If you know of particular areas of concern with the home you are considering, it might be wise to find an inspector who may have extensive experience in that area. For example, if the home has a history of water infiltration you may want to consider an inspector who has knowledge of water intrusion or mold assessment.
What type of report does the inspector provide and what is in it?
Some inspectors provide low quality hand written checklist style reports. Though this was standard in the industry ten to fifteen years ago, times have changed. Quality inspectors now provide clear streamlined computerized reports which can be delivered quickly via electronic means. Reports should not be limited to basic checklists, but should contain written comments and summaries on the home and its systems. Reports should contain detailed information on each system including the condition, the age, and possibly the life expectancy of particular systems. It also is a good idea to have an inspector that provides digital photographs of the inspection, as this provides further documentation of potential deficiencies of certain systems and can help clarify exactly where and what the potential problem may be. This is useful especially for attorney review of the report, and to help the seller identify what may need to be repaired prior to closing.
Is the inspector affiliated with any professional organizations?
It is a good idea to choose an inspector who is affiliated with a reputable national or local inspection organization. Associations such as NACHI (The National Association of Certified Home Inspectors), ASHI (American Society of Home Inspectors), and NAHI (National Association of Home Inspectors) all have very high qualifications for membership. These inspectors will often inspect to a level above and beyond what the minimum state requirements may be. Typically they also require their members to fulfill continuing education requirements that are also well above state minimums. Member inspectors have to follow strict codes of ethics and pass routine examinations in order to maintain membership status.
The best way to choose an inspector often is to ask friends, relatives, or co-workers who may have recently had an inspection performed who they used and how their experience was. Would they recommend that inspector or suggest you look elsewhere? Sometimes a realtor or real estate attorney may have suggestions on who to use. This is a fine source of information, but you are encouraged to do your own research on the inspector. Find out why they recommend the inspector as opposed to someone else. Quite often you will find there may have been an instance or instances where these inspectors may have done a stand up job or went above and beyond the call of duty in order to protect the interests of their clients. It is also perfectly acceptable to ask your potential inspector for a list of references or client testimonials. This may help in your decision making process.