A good professional home inspector will help you evaluate the physical condition of the home, of certain aspects of the lot such as drainage, and of some of the personal property that is included with the sale such as kitchen appliances. Remember, the physical inspection of the home is only one aspect of what you should be looking at when you are evaluating the home you are preparing to buy (see Under Contract and Risks and Pitfalls)
If you don’t buy houses every day, choosing an inspector can be tricky. Real estate inspectors in Colorado, and in many other states, are neither licensed nor regulated. There are no requirements for education, background training or experience on the job. Anyone who wants to put an ad in the yellow pages or distribute flyers in real estate offices can be a real estate inspector in Colorado.
This situation is further complicated by the fact that inspectors are in one of the more “politically” difficult positions in the industry. While their job is to protect the buyer, most get the bulk of their business through referrals from real estate brokers. Since brokers generally only get paid when real estate transactions close, inspectors can feel pressured to downplay the significance of any problems they discover in a home in their verbal and written reports to the buyer. One inspection company in our area used to promote their services to Realtors with the slogan, “We won’t put a brick wall in front of your deal,” implying that they would work to make the deal close, trying not to create undue concerns in the buyer’s mind. It is these inherent conflicts of interest that have stimulated legislation in some states prohibiting real estate agents from recommending inspectors.
Having said this, it is important to add that all of the inspectors I’ve worked with in the Boulder County market, whether I’ve recommended them or not, have been both competent and well intended. Though they are in one of the most difficult positions in the industry, they generally deal with these conflicts with great integrity and they work hard to protect the buyer’s interests. If you are working with a buyer agent that you trust, I would tend to follow their recommendations for an inspector. If not, talk to friends or coworkers and see if they have recommendations.
Issues to Consider in Choosing an Inspector
Whether you have a recommendation, or whether you have to resort to the yellow pages, you should consider the following before you hire an inspector:
- Background. Most inspectors have a background in engineering, construction, quality control, or one of the building trades. In my view, an inspector’s technical background is not particularly important.
- Experience. You want your inspector to have been in the business at least a year or two and to have completed a hundred or more inspections professionally. There is just no substitute for experience. A background in construction or engineering does not, in itself, prepare anyone for the bizarre things that homeowners do to “fix up” homes, nor does it necessarily give someone a feel for how homes deteriorate over time. This knowledge develops through the experience of inspecting hundreds or thousands of homes.
- Training and Certification. There are several national certification programs (e.g., ASHI) that require fairly extensive testing as well as ongoing training. These certifications don’t insure good inspection services, but they do give you some assurance that your inspector knows the basics.
- Time in the House. This is probably one of the most important factors in choosing an inspector. Ask the inspector how long the inspection process takes. If they aren’t planning to be in the house at least a couple of hours, they just don’t have time to do a thorough job no matter how much they know about houses.
- Your Role. Most inspectors want at least an hour or so in the home before you arrive. This allows them to concentrate fully as they are familiarizing themselves with the home and its systems. But they should want you there for the final hour or so so they can explain the problems they’ve found and so give you some tips on how to care for the home. Don’t work with them if they won’t do this for you.
- Cost. Most good inspectors will charge $250-$350 for an inspection of a normal sized single family home, perhaps a bit less for a condo or town home and more for a larger home. That’s what you want to be paying. The $100 inspector just can’t be putting the time into the home or the written report that is required for a good inspection.
Not Uncle Harry
And please, please, please, don’t rely on your Uncle Harry the home builder or your Cousin Harriet the engineer for your inspection. Have them look at the house in addition to having a professional inspection. You can have as many inspections as you want. But don’t rely on anyone other than a professional home inspector. Unless they have extensive experience in home inspections, they simply don’t know what they’re doing. A woman who attended one of my recent seminars spent $5,000 to repair her new home after her father, who had more than 30 years experience as a local custom home builder, overlooked roof problems that any competent inspector would have uncovered.
Get a Professional Inspection on New Construction
Many buyers do not have newly built homes professionally inspected, relying on the builder’s construction supervisor or the city inspector to assure them that their home was built right. This is a mistake, and a potentially serious one. City inspectors just can’t spend the time in the home that it takes to do a complete inspection. And they simply are not interested in whether all the doors close properly and all the windows latch. This is often true of construction supervisors as well. In any case, their interests don’t coincide completely with those of the buyer. The most serious defects I’ve seen uncovered as a result of a home inspection have been with recently built homes. Read what we’ve written in our Risk and Pitfalls section under New Construction.