Tips on hiring the right home inspector

Tips on hiring a home inspector!
rightWho do you trust? … someone you found on the internet, or maybe the yellow pages, or should you use the inspector that your real estate agent recommended?
The answer is one that requires careful thought.  The thought of picking someone blindly out of the yellow pages is risky.  Finding an inspector on the internet can be a roll of the dice too especially if the website doesn’t offer credentials, a way to validate them and/or not carefully thought-out.  
Experienced Real Estate agents are certainly in a positioned to know who the best inspectors are. They are professionals who have sit through countless inspections with multiple inspectors. Not only do they observe inspections and listen to the inspectors describe defects, but they also work with inspectors in follow up situations. If the Real Estate agent is experienced they should recognize who the best inspectors are. Many have established relationships with inspectors that they believe to be the best.
The question is; what do they consider to be the qualifications of a good inspector?   A tough question,  here are a few tips to consider ….
There is a concern that Real estate agents have a number of potential conflicts of interest with respect to the recommendation of a specific inspector.  The rationale has some merit but this particular concern is balanced because successful real estate professionals are dependent on repeat business and referrals for their incomes. Successful agents nurture  clients in hopes that they will get referrals and repeat business.  The most successful agents know they can’t afford for the word to get out that they are associated with or recommend incompetent inspectors.  Successful agents understand that in the long run good inspectors protect their clients from bad experiences, which directly reflects back on them.
On the flip side, some of inspectors and inspection franchises have discovered that the best investment of their marketing dollar is to pay fees for opportunities by entering into preferred provider relationships – sometimes exclusive provider relationships. In these cases, a recommendation from a real estate agent is certainly questionable and may have nothing to do with the inspector’s ability or reputation.
What about other alternatives?
You could ask friends, coworkers, colleagues, neighbors, and family members who recently bought houses if they were happy with their inspectors. This sounds good, until you consider the knowledge base of your sources. In each case, you’re talking to a particular person who had a particular experience. In most cases, the reference is one inspector at one inspection – not a very diverse sample.
  • You could ask your Real Estate agent for the criteria they used to evaluate the recommended inspector.
  • You could ask your Real Estate agent what inspector they used when they purchased a home, or what inspector they recommend to their family members.                                                                              
  • You should at least interview the inspector yourself but what should you ask….maybe about background before becoming an inspector, years of experience as an inspector is very important, maybe confirm that the inspector is a full time inspector and not a part timer, how many homes they have inspected is important , maybe inquire about training, credentials, etc., maybe ask for references, maybe ask whether they belong to a professional association, maybe ask whether they participate in continuing education to maintain their expertise, important to ask if he or she carries a ladder and walks on the roof…and lastly maybe ask about price but price should not be associated with quality….  All good and important questions!  

Credentials and Professional Associations - Home inspection, as a profession, has only existed for about forty years. 

You will find very few inspectors who are both certified and participate in preferred provider programs.  An inspector who is State Certified indicates that the inspector at least has some minimal qualifications and should be a minimal requirement for hiring an inspector but should not be your only consideration.

One of the best things you can do is to find out about an inspector’s qualifications is to ask what Professional association they belong to.  Keeping mind that not all associations are created equal.  A Certified Inspector through the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors also Certified through the National Master Certification Board is the preferred credentials!                                                                                      

Background and Training – There are reasons to believe that the best background for a home inspector would be construction. That has some merit but a person with specific experience in a particular trade might be very good at building or installing or evaluating a particular system, but his experience could be limited to his specific specialization. Inspectors are generalists, they inspect all the systems and therefore, must be familiar with all the systems and how they function together.   The skill of a Professional Inspector is vastly different than a ones ability to build a home or perform some other specific trade.

A combination of background, training and experience is what makes a competent home inspector with an emphases on “experience”. Ask the inspector if he attends monthly continuing education or when was the last training session he or she attended.   If the answer is a slow response or longer than 6 months ….quickly move on to another candidate….it is critical that inspectors maintain their expertise!  There’s no substitute for experience, don’t even consider an inspector who has not been a full time inspector for more than five years and hasn’t completed at least a thousand inspections.                                                                                  

  • Peer review – An inspector who has been elected by his peers to represent them in some capacity has been granted some kind of meaningful endorsement.

A few more points to consider….

  • Ask how long the inspection will take…If the answer is 45 minutes or anything less than 2 hours ….quickly move on to another inspector!  
  • Make sure the inspector or the firm doesn’t sell your contact information … Interested vendors will pay fees for your contact information so they can ring your phone or show up on your door step in an attempt to sell new home owner services. 
  • Ask to see an inspection report.  At the conclusion of any inspection, you should receive a written report of the inspector’s findings.  Inspectors and their reports vary widely – report styles can range from a two page vague, unclear, worthless document, to a minimal checklist, to the jargon-filled narrative, to a comprehensive document that clearly reports what was inspected, what the issues are.  Inspection reports can be difficult to understand, so it’s important that you check out a sample report.  Make sure that what you are paying for is detailed (covering every major system) and clear. Too often reports are so vague or so garbled that they are worthless.  After reading a report, you should know, which major systems are near the end of their expected service lives, know exactly what the defects are.
  • Some inspection companies try to sell you their services by offering fluff, such as a big book of general information, or some limited warranty,  among other things.
    First and foremost… what you are after is a thorough home inspection by an experienced inspector who provides a comprehensive report with content about your home, not bulk or information that may not even apply to your home. There are many sources for general home information and most is available online.    A warranty sounds good but usually they cover very little and are extremely limited.      
    Don’t choose a home inspector based on bulk or fluff ……stick with experience and credentials. 
  • Ask the inspector about limitations, Ask if they carry a ladder to access the roof, ask if they plan to enter the crawl space or the attic.  Ask if they will actually inspect the systems like the furnace or will they just automatically refer you to a Mechanical Contractor.  

The bottom line…. Carefully consider all the above and do your home work.   Most importantly be smart, there are many good experienced inspectors so use caution not to hire a dud.  A good experienced inspector can save you thousands of dollars, the not so good can cost you money for years to come!

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