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Criteria for Hiring a Home Inspector


It’s often said that one of the most expensive and important purchases you will ever make will be your home. However, unlike the guarantee a buyer receives with most purchases, there’s no money-back guarantee or return policy, if you’re not satisfied with your recently purchased home. Once you buy a home, you’re on your own to maintain it, repair it, anticipate problems and pay the bills. This is why it’s best to know as much as you can about potential problems before you make the commitment to buy.

What Home and Property Inspectors Do

One of the best ways to understand about a home’s condition, habitability and safety is to hire a professional home inspector. A properly trained home inspector will review your house as a system, looking at how one component of the house might affect the operability or lifespan of another. Home inspectors will go through the property and perform a comprehensive visual inspection to assess the condition of the house and all of its systems. They will determine the components that are not performing properly as well as items that are beyond their useful life or are unsafe. They will also identify areas where repairs may be needed or where there may have been problems in the past. Inspections are intended to provide the client with a better understanding of property conditions, as observed at the time of the inspection.

Scope of the Inspection

Home inspections are intended to provide information regarding the condition of systems and components of the home at the time of the inspection. It will help you make an informed purchase decision.

The home inspector will provide a visual inspection by looking at the home’s various systems, including interior and exterior components. The inspector will check exterior components including roofing, flashing, chimneys, gutters, downspouts, wall surfaces, windows, doors, the foundation and the grading around it.

Note that if the inspection takes place in the winter, the roof and the foundation may not be fully visible for inspection, if they are covered with snow and ice. For safety and insurance reasons, the home inspector would not typically climb up on snow or ice covered roofs. However, the home inspector will inspect the roof from the ground or other vantage point. This also applies to the chimney and downspouts.

If problems or symptoms beyond the scope of the inspection are found, the home inspector may recommend further evaluation.

Interior systems the home inspector will check include electrical, heating, air conditioning, ventilation, plumbing, insulation, flooring, ceiling and walls, windows and doors.

As with the outside of the home, the inspection of the interior systems is visual, meaning that the inspector will be unable to see behind walls or under the floor.

Choosing a Home Inspector

Home inspection is a discipline that requires special training, knowledge and communication skills.

Reputable home and property inspectors generally belong to a state or regional industry association. These associations have set standards, which, in some cases, are recognized by state governments. Some associations have developed membership categories based on the individual members’ qualifications. In most states, a member cannot advertise or promote his or her membership in the association until they have reached the minimum standards of a practicing member. Standards may vary from state to state.

The following questions/answers have been prepared to help you to choose a home inspector:

  1. How do I find a home inspector?

    Check association and state websites. Ask friends or family members. Your real estate agent may also make a suggestion. However, be aware that under most states’ regulations and the code of ethics for real estate agents, agents are not permitted to recommend or provide the name of only one home inspector. They are, however, permitted to provide a list of home inspectors from which you can choose.

    The only alliance home inspectors should have is to their professional association and their only allegiance should be to the homebuyer.

2.    How long has the home inspector been in business?

The competence of a home inspector can be expected to improve with the number of years in business and the number of home inspections conducted. Experienced home inspectors will be better prepared to assess the condition of the house.

3.    What are the home inspector’s qualifications?

Look for people who belong to a professional association and who have taken inspection courses such as defect recognition, building sciences, and home construction. Professional home inspectors are bound by a strict code of ethics and must adhere to specific standards of practice. Knowledgeable home inspectors will have a general understanding of all the various systems and components in a home. Many have practical experience or a background in engineering, construction and related building trades.

4.    How do I know that a home inspector has the necessary qualifications?

You should ask to see proof of their state license(s) or go online to visit the state’s website regarding home inspectors.

5.    Can the home inspector provide three references?

Any qualified home inspector should gladly provide this information upon request. Call the people named as references and ask whether they were satisfied with the service they received from the inspector. You can also check with the Better Business Bureau.

6.    Can the home inspector also be hired to do repairs or improvements?

No. While they may provide you with a personal opinion based on past experience, it is recommended that you obtain three independent quotes from qualified contractors.

7.    Does the home inspector conduct inspections at night?

It is not desirable to conduct an inspection at night, since a number of the vital components of the exterior of the house cannot be seen properly.

8.    How much does an inspection cost?

Typically it depends on the size and the age of the home. While it is often the first question that is asked, it is not the most important question. Why? A lot depends on the quality of the inspection and what is provided. When you consider the amount of investment you are making, the level of service is more important than the price. An inspection for a 1,800 to 2,200 sq. ft. home typically costs around $450-$500. Customers should be wary of deals that seem too good to be true.

9.    Where can I get more information about the home inspector and/or his/her firm?

The home inspector may suggest you visit the firm’s website or their association website, as a way to provide you with company details, a list of inspector qualifications or describe a range of services offered.

10.  What should a home inspector provide following the inspection?

The home inspector generally provides a written report reviewing every major home system and component within 24 hours of the inspection. Some provide a simple check-list on site. Others provide an on-site report, as well as a comprehensive narrative report which includes both a summary and photographs.

11.  Should I hire a home inspector to inspect my new home?

Yes. Defects and deficiencies are not limited to older homes. Many newer homes have items that are missing or incorrectly installed. You should also ask the builder about their warranty program.

12.  Does the home inspector provide a guarantee?

Most inspectors do not provide a guarantee. Those that are confident in what they do often provide a guarantee. A guarantee is just one more way to demonstrate the inspector’s desire and commitment to meet and exceed your expectations and also to ensure you that you have an enjoyable real estate experience.

13.  Does the home inspector provide a 90 day warranty?

A few inspectors offer a warranty. If a warranty is offered, it is added protection for your home and your investment. It will help protect your present and future investment. 

14.  Does the home inspector provide additional information to educate the client on the care of the home?

Check to see if they provide a book on how to maintain your home, or a monthly newsletter on home maintenance. Ask if their service includes answering questions free of charge either online or by phone after you have purchased the home.

15.  Does the home inspector provide a detailed narrative report – including photographs or just a check list? Is a sample report available?

Lower priced inspections typically provide a simple checklist. Period. More detailed inspections include a narrative report and photographs. Ask the inspector to provide a sample of their inspection report. Check to see if the report includes a narrative description or just check-off boxes. Are pictures included? Is the information presented and explained clearly and completely? Does the report highlight any problems that could present a safety hazard?

16.  Is the company a full service company?

Sometimes issues arise that require additional testing. This includes, but is not limited to, radon testing, water quality and quantity testing, mold testing, etc. Using a full service company facilitates the inspection process, since these tests can be conducted at the same time as the home inspection. The other option is to hire other companies to do the testing. This often delays the closing process.

17.  Are the inspectors licensed?

Inspectors for Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire are required to be licensed. You can check their license status by visiting the state’s home inspector website.

18.  How long will the inspection take?

An inspection for a 1,800 to 2,200 sq. ft. home typically takes about three hours. Usually there is an initial review of what will occur, the inspection, and then a summary session. If the home is over 4,000 sq. ft., the more sophisticated home inspection firms often will add a second inspector to keep the process under 3.5 – 4 hours out of respect for the time of the buyer and their agent.

19.    Can I follow the home inspector around?

It is recommended that potential buyers accompany the inspector as the inspection takes place. It can be a valuable learning experience. The home inspector should be willing to answer any questions a buyer might have and to clarify the limitations of the inspection to avoid misunderstandings. Following the inspection, the buyer is normally presented with a written report, consolidating the details of the inspection.

20.    Is it easy to schedule an inspection?

Does the company respond to your inquiry quickly? Are you easily able to access the inspector for technical questions? Can you schedule an inspection at your convenience online or via phone 24 hours a day? When timing is critical, it is valuable to be able to schedule an inspection at any time of day.

21.    What is covered in the inspection? 

At a minimum, the inspector must follow the state’s home inspection regulations. Areas that will be covered and inspected will be all mechanical and structural components and systems of the property.  Every aspect of the home will be looked at. One thing to remember is that it's a visual inspection of the readily accessible areas of the home, and a large amount of information is provided to educate you.

22.    Do they belong to a professional home inspector association(s)?

There are many state and national associations for home inspectors.   National associations include ASHI and InterNACHI.

23.    Do they focus on residential inspections?

Make sure the inspector has training and experience in the unique discipline of home inspection, which is very different from inspecting commercial buildings or a construction site. If you are buying unique property, such as a historic home or log home, ask whether the inspector has experience with that type of property in particular.

24.    Do they offer repairs or improvements?

          Many states and associations forbid it as a conflict of interest.                       

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