4 tips for finding the best home inspector
Just going with your agent's recommendation may be the easiest way, but probably not the smartest. Here are expert tips for finding the best person for the job.
Buying a house is the biggest purchase you'll likely ever make. That's why you want the best possible home inspector in your corner to tell you whether that cute Colonial is your dream home … or a lemon with a rotting foundation, termites and a shaky chimney.
But first, how do you know if an inspector is rock-solid? There's a lot riding on the person you choose, after all. "You've got one shot at having the home looked at by a professional who has a professional eye and professional training to find defects," says Jim Turner, certified home inspector in Southern California.
We've grilled the experts for their top tips on how to find and vet a home inspector.
A messy frontier
There are 20,000 to 30,000 home inspectors nationwide today, estimates Turner, who is also president of the 20-year-old National Association of Home Inspectors, which has about 1,500 members. He says many inspectors were lured into the business by promises of easy money. No wonder would-be homeowners have trouble knowing whom to trust.
Unfortunately, only about half of states require any kind of certification or licensing for home inspectors. "For example, in New Mexico, there are no requirements to being a home inspector," says inspector Bill Richardson, owner of Albuquerque's Responsive Inspections and president-elect of the American Society of Home Inspectors. "You can just hang your shingle and go for it."
However, Turner adds, "Licensing doesn't solve problems with the industry." He points out that after licensing was instituted in Texas, the number of inspectors jumped several fold, as would-be inspectors signed up to benefit from the glow of respectability that a state license would give them – whether or not they actually deserved respectability, Turner says.
Tip No. 1: Don't trust an inspector simply because he or she has a state license or certification. All states that issue licenses require training, "but the training may be so minimal that it is ineffective," Turner says.
So now what? Well, move on to Lesson No. 2.
Tip No. 2: Look for an inspector who is associated with a professional inspection organization. This can help weed out the truly fly-by-night inspectors, but it won't catch all the bad actors. There is an alphabet soup of such groups, with wildly varying criteria for membership. In one, "you can send them a $60 check and you'll be a member," says Mike Kuhn, a New Jersey home inspector and co-author of "The Pocket Idiot's Guide to Home Inspections."
Look for affiliation with groups such as NAHI, the National Institute of Building Inspectors, and the American Society of Home Inspectors. These are some of the most reputable inspector associations, and their Web sites have a "find an inspector" service to locate a member in your area.
You can also study several home inspection organizations' criteria for membership: how many homes a would-be member must have inspected; how much — if any — continuing education is required; whether an exam is required for admission, etc. Each is a little different. Inspectors who are fully certified by ASHI, the nation's oldest such group, with 5,700 members, are required to have completed at least 250 paid professional home inspections and passed two written exams, for example.
Tip No. 3: Don't just take your agent's recommendation at face value. Real-estate agents often recommend inspectors to home buyers. But that arrangement doesn't necessarily serve the home buyer well, since both agent and inspector have a financial incentive for things to go well: for the agent, a commission, and for the inspector, the possibility of repeat business from the agent. "Every single day we walk a razor's edge with that conflict of interest," Turner acknowledges. He adds, though, that "the good Realtors are going to recommend an inspector who's not going to be afraid of what he calls out."
Still, experts suggest some ways to make sure your interests are served:
- Don't be monogamous. Get more than one suggestion from your real-estate agent. Turner suggests asking for three inspectors' names. Richardson says to ask for five.
- Ask the tough questions. "Ask the agent flat out, 'Would you hire any of these to inspect your home, or your family's home?'" Turner says. "It kind of puts them on the spot." Also, ask the agent or others you know, "Who's the deal-killer in this area?" advises Ilona Bray, co-author of "Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home." In other words, who's the crusty inspector with a reputation for mucking up deals because he finds all of a home's flaws. That's who you want.
Tip No. 4: Grill him. Once you've got an inspector in your sights, start sniffing around his résumé and asking questions. "We have a phrase: 'Inspect the inspector,'" Kuhn says.
Here's what to do:
- Check for complaints. If your state licenses inspectors, call the licensing board, or whatever body oversees them (in Texas it is the real-estate board), and ask if the inspector is active and up-to-date. Also, "ask if there are any complaints against the inspector," Turner suggests.
Call the professional association to which the inspector belongs and do the same, though Turner concedes that these organizations don't see that many complaints – "maybe a dozen a year." The local Better Business Bureau could also be worth a call.
Interview the inspector. Don't be shy. Here's what to ask:
- Talk to me. First, the inspector should make time to talk to you and answer your questions, Turner says. What should you listen for? "Hesitation," Turner replies. "If he's professional, the answers should roll right off his tongue."
- Let's see the résumé. Ask about the inspector’s credentials and experience. Generally speaking, "You should have had a hammer in your hand at some point in your background to have a good grasp of construction," Turner says. Does the inspector have a professional bio that you can look at?
- Got insurance? Ask whether the inspector carries “errors and omissions insurance,” says Kuhn – which is sort of like malpractice insurance for an inspector. If he doesn’t, ask why. In some states, insurance is a licensing requirement.
- Got a guarantee? "Do you offer a guarantee?" Kuhn suggests asking. Typically, a home inspection is good for the day of the inspection, he says – but Kuhn's firm, HouseMaster, offers a written agreement that obligates the inspector to reimburse the consumer for eligible repairs that may develop during the guarantee period, regardless of whether it was an oversight on the inspector's part or just normal wear and tear.
An example: If the furnace is working fine when inspected in summer, but doesn't work when flipped on in November, the inspector's firm pays for the repair, he says. "The bottom line is that a good inspector should have no problem standing behind their inspection with a written guarantee for a reasonable amount of time after the inspection," Kuhn says.
- Get it in writing. Ask if the inspector puts his findings into a narrative-style report; that's what you want – not just a long checklist.
Ask to see a sample; it's often available on the inspector's Web site. Look at it to assess whether you're comfortable with the language and can understand it. Also see that the inspector is thorough, and covers all of the areas that the organization he belongs to says he will cover in its standards of practice, Richardson says — inside, outside, chimney, heating system, etc.
- Invite yourself. Before hiring the inspector, ask to come along when the home is examined. "Another red flag would be if they don't want you to go on the home inspection with them," Kuhn says. A home inspection usually takes three to four hours. Unless a team is examining the home, be suspicious of anyone who tells you it will take 45 minutes.
With a little inspecting of your own, you'll likely end up with a home that contains no unhappy surprises. And that's a happy ending for everyone.
The best way to find the best inspectors is to go to independentinspectors.org.
They have signed a pledge to not market to realtors. The other orgs are just a random mix of talent.
You should also make sure they include an infrared camera scan and have E&O insurance.
If you just ask about insurance you will not know, you must specify errors and ommissions since their basic liability policy only covers damage to the house during the inspection.
I am not hard on houses I just report what I see and don't let things slide! I worked 20 years in construction and was a home builder. Construction veterans are the only guys I would hire, in fact if you want to be a federal HUD inspector you must have a construction back ground. There are many national franchise home inspection companies that offer in house training to guy's that really don't have a clue. I have seen the inspection reports from these companies that print you out a copy on the spot and they almost always miss major items. Their work is based on volume and keeping real estate agents happy. I spend at least 2 hours per report after my field work of 3hrs for an average house. I study the field photos and often find additional items in the photos. There is a lot of info that needs to be gathered for an inspection and I would be suspect of any company that offers you an on the spot report. Many agents will trash talk other reputable companies because they want "their guy" to perform the inspection. I think it is terrible that agents or inspectors would do this to new home owners who really can not afford to replace a furnace or roof. Google or Bing home inspector for your city and stay away from the franchise companies, and always remember, you get what you pay for.
If your State requires home inspectors to be licensed, then follow the laws and consumer recommendations from the State.
Save the "our school drama" for the upcoming March Madness. "Go Team"
Consumers are better served matching their expectations to the home inspector's service.
For example. If you want the report on site, select an inspector that performs on-site reporting. If you want an inspector that includes photographs in the report then select an inspector that provides photographs. If you want an inspector that walks on roofs then get an inspector with a truck and ladder.
There are no guarantees of a perfect inspection. The State consumer protection services will help you in the event of a problem.
Remember, even the best person in the world makes mistakes.
O please "Diploma Mill", you omitted that Internachi allows the test takers to "qualifiy" annually in an unproctored setting at home to "pass" the exam. No state will allow this for licensure or certification. Internachi is a "for profit" organization for Nick Gromiko and company, and the "CMI" designation is another way Nick gets money from his "green" inspectors. Internachi has had a name change from NACHI due to loosing a lawsuit by NAHI.
For the general public: NAHI and ASHI have strict requirements, are non-profit, and have proctored exam situations. NAHI requires formal inspection training.
Contractors actually are poor inspection professionals if they do not receive formal inspection training. They may have gotten into the habit of cutting corners to where the practice has become "acceptable".
A well trained inspector, licensed, certified or not, who is a member in good standing with NAHI or ASHI, who can answer your questions, put you at ease and is open about their work is who you should consider for your inspector.
And yes, unfortunately, Ohio has NO license, certification, or training requirement to be a home inspectors.
NAHI, the National Association of Home Inspectors, is much better. NAHI requires a 40 hour course or 20 fee-paid inspections. www.nahi.org NAHI is for your average to better than average inspector.
InterNACHI is by far the most rigorous inspection trade association to join. InterNACHI requires dozens of courses and exams and hundreds of quizzes. www.nachi.org/blind.htm InterNACHI is for very good to excellent inspectors.
The Master Inspector Certification Board requires 3 years experience, a criminal background check, and 1,000 inspections. The board administers the "Certified Master Inspector" (CMI) Federal Certification professional designation in the U.S. and Canada. www.CertifiedMasterInspector.org. CMI's are the best of the best.
I would worry less about which organization was doing the "certification", some are better than others.. but at very least, each of these companies (ashi, nahi, nachi, creia) ARE businesses that rely on membership to stay afloat, with that in mind, it is up to the individual inspector to use the resources of any of these companies to keep up on current topics, continue to expand their knowledge of their industry.
Many disagree with me, but being a contractor as well myself, I'm not sure how most inspectors in this industry got their start without a background in construction. Maybe that makes me a bit sided, but I would prefer that anyone I hire is better at recognizing quality construction and methods, than they are at say Marketing or having a fancy website.
That being said, when calling an inspector you may use, ask questions.. How long have you been in this profession, what background do you have, are you licensed as a contractor as well, are you going to inspect the crawlspace and attic? Are they asking you questions as well? Many good inspectors will want to make sure utilities are on, if YOU have any outstanding questions/concerns about the home, most will want to make sure that you, the customer are there.
Price.. depends on a few factors, is the inspector going to use an electronic report with pictures and such? This is a preferred method in my opinion and entails almost as much work when preparing the report as it did inspecting the property. This will give you the customer a more detailed and easy to read report. Many "cheap" guys offer a limited "checklist" type report. If you were to the inspector, and you were going to be at the property for 2-3 hours at minimum (depending on size) and the same at your office to prepare report and had travel time etc... how much would you charge?
Happy home shopping!