How to Hire a Home Inspector
You're buying a house. You want it inspected before you buy, to ensure you know what you are getting into. How do you pick the right home inspector?
Well, the first thing to keep in mind is that the home inspector is a generalist. They can give you an overall review of the property that is unbiased and relatively thorough, but they do not have the expertise of an engineer or other professional. The opinion of the home inspector is unaffected by the outcome of your real estate decision because they get paid regardless of whether you buy or not. The opinion of your real estate agent is not necessarily as unbiased, since that person has a stake in the sale. If the sale doesn't happen, the real estate agent doesn't get paid.
The majority of people do hire home inspectors. In most cases, there will be a clause in their offer to purchase that makes the sale contingent on acceptable results of the inspection. This protects you as the buyer, because you can void the deal if the inspection turns up a significant problem.
The cost of the inspection will vary. As a result, it pays to shop around. However, don't just buy the lowest priced inspection, because it may be that you aren't receiving as complete an assessment if you do. Look for an inspector who will tell you what will be covered in the inspection. You should get a review of at least the following components in the home or property:
- The exterior of the building, including walls, soffits, decks, roof, chimneys, and drainage conditions of the property
- The interior of the building, including windows, doors, plumbing, electrical
- Major systems such as the cooling and heating systems
- Attic and basement or crawl space and whether these parts of the building are adequately insulated and ventilated
If your inspector isn't prepared to cover all these areas, you are choosing the wrong inspector.
Keep in mind that inspectors don't take things apart; they do a visual inspection only. This limits the problems that can be identified, and the kinds of comments that can be made. For instance, an inspector can tell you if the roof needs to be fixed now, but can't tell you how much time a roof has left. In order to do that, a more in-depth review, including samples of the shingles, would be required.
Home inspectors do not do specialized work. For instance, they won't check for termites for you. You'll usually have to hire specialists for features such as swimming pools, septic systems, underground storage tanks for heating oil, or the health of trees and shrubs on the property. There can be exceptions, so if you need a review of the swimming pool, you should look for a home inspector who is qualified to do that for you.
Do you need the appliances checked as part of the deal? Not all inspectors will deal with these either. Check if this is a concern of yours with your particular real estate transaction.
So how do you actually find a good inspector? Your real estate agent may be able to refer you to an inspector. However, a friend of the real estate agent may not be as unbiased as you'd like. If you want to find an inspector yourself, you can start with your local Yellow pages. You can also find a professional on the web, through one of the home inspector certification associations. If you find your own inspector, be prepared to ask for references and then check them!
Of course, a word of mouth referral from a satisfied customer is always a good way to find a good person.
In general, you should accompany the inspector as the inspection is made. They can explain things on the spot, and answer questions that you may have. Doing this can give you the best bang for the buck.