So, you’re buying a home, and you’ve reached that stage of looking for a home inspector. How would you find one? What should you do to find them, and once you have selected one, how can you tell if they will do a good job, and what should you ask them before hiring them?
One of the most unique factors about home inspection is that you will need to select and contract a home inspector to inspect the condition of an incredibly important investment without even meeting them. How many other professions are like this? Not too many. This makes it even more important for you to do your due diligence, and, if possible, before placing an offer on a home. The home-buying timeline and purchase process varies by state, but generally, as soon as you’ve placed an offer on a home and it is accepted, you’ll need to schedule that home inspection. How can you find one? Here are some tips, and what to watch out for on each one:
Ask friends and family: Ask anyone you know and trust who has bought homes and hired an inspector in the area. Based on their experience and how long ago it was, you’ll be able to find out how good or bad this inspector was. You’ll see how that inspector’s work has been proven out over time. Were there things they missed? Were they right about various things that have happened over time? How was your friend or family member’s experience with that inspector? Were they helpful? Did they provide valuable information? What to watch out for: Comments from your family or friends that the inspector was rushed, condescending, or argumentative. Items the inspector missed that turned out to be costly or would have prevented them from buying the home, or the inspector was too “cozy” with the real estate agents.
Check review sites: Look at sites like Google, Yelp, and Angi, and other local ones. Read the reviews – when there is a person condemning the inspection that was provided – remember to ask yourself, is their complaint legitimate? If so, what did the inspector do in response? Also remember that these sites do have ways that they are monetizing the content, so beware of ads and providers (inspectors) that rely heavily on them. Check the inspector’s rating, and how many reviews they have. What to watch out for: Inspectors that are defensive and argumentative in their responses, major problems missed, general bad experiences. Look to see if the inspector is clearly placing ads to get on the top of search results. When the review site favors or returns ad results at the top of the page, or within another service provider’s page – also look for the organic results.
Read a sample report: This might be the most important tip. When you are considering a home inspector, ask to see a sample report from an actual inspection – look for poorly written comments, things that don’t make sense. Try to understand the sample report as if you were the buyer of that home – can you understand the most important concerns? Do they have one readily available for viewing by a prospective client, and is it from a real inspection? This is a customary item that any inspection firm or inspector should be able to provide immediately. Do they include photos? Is the report vague and general in nature – is there a large amount of standardized “boilerplate” language in it? Does it indicate the specific area(s) of concern? What to watch out for: If an inspector can’t provide a sample report or doesn’t have one, don’t hire them. If the report does not make sense and you have to ask many questions just to understand what’s being discussed/shown, it is not a good report. If the report has a lot of language like “one or more” or “any and all”, or other generic language that does not indicate clearly what is the issue and where it is located.
Ask about their experience: Ask the inspector or inspection company what their experience is with inspection, construction, the type of home you are looking at, and any other relevant questions about the inspector’s experience. Ask them how many inspections they have done. Remember: There is no substitute for experience. We all have to start somewhere, but you might not want your inspector starting out on your biggest investment and future home. What to watch out for: The inspector says they were previously in a totally different field and have no trades experience. The inspector has completed less than 250 home inspections, or got licensed within the past few years. Some states have a “check a license” feature (if the state requires licensure) – so check them out – look for complaints filed or disciplinary actions.
Ask them what tools they use: Look for an inspector who understands the value and use of tech, but has the wisdom and experience to interpret what those tools really show. Mistaken use of tools or tech can lead to inaccurate information and incorrect conclusions. Do they use drones? Infrared? Other tools like a moisture meter? What to watch out for: Your prospective inspector says that a screwdriver and a flashlight is all you need. The inspector doesn’t use a moisture meter, infrared camera, (or even a camera at all!) or other tools now readily available and incredibly useful. Inspector says things like: “if I take a picture of one thing, then I have to take a picture of everything…” or “if I use a moisture meter in one area, I have to test everything.”
Check the professional trade organizations: We’d suggest starting with the organization that has the most rigorous membership, education, and entrance requirements, and that would be the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) ASHI also has local chapters and you can see if your prospective inspector is active in their local chapter. Check ashi.org for more information. What to watch out for: Stay away from organizations that focus on developing business for the inspector, that make a lot of promises, and offer lots of warranties. Warranties and promises cloud the inspector’s ability to be direct, clear, unencumbered by affiliations, and may result in the inspector relying on the warranties instead of their own skills and knowledge.
Call them: Have a conversation with them – what’s their disposition? Are they cranky or grumpy, or are they excited to inspect your new home? Do they seem rushed to get off the phone, or give you the time to clearly explain the process? Are they annoyed? Chances are, however they are on the phone, they will be like that at the inspection and anytime after if you have questions. Home inspection is as much a communications profession as it is a technical profession. It is not just what we find, but it is how we communicate it and how we work with our clients. What to watch out for: If the inspector has a complaining attitude about the house, the agent, or anything else. The inspector seems annoyed or uninterested. The inspector is too excited about your agent (might be too cozy with them!).
What other services do they provide? Find out if they do radon, pest, or other services, inspections, and/or testing. If they don’t, can they let you know what they would recommend, based on the type of home, age of home, and other considerations? What to watch out for: They offer too many add-ons without considering the type of home, they are in a rush to sell you on add-ons. Ancillary services are very helpful, but only when they can be useful for the type of property you’re buying.
Try and get this research done before you place your offer. This way you can be ready to call and schedule the inspection as soon as your offer has been accepted. Run your inspector choices by your real estate agent, and see if they have had any experience with this inspector. In the end, it is really up to you to do your “due diligence” to find an inspector that you feel good about, and you’ll trust to do this very important job. Of course, we’d like to be your inspector, but that just might not be possible. Best of luck in your search!