Hiring a Home Inspector

By Insurance.com Posted : 03/08/2007
You're thinking of buying a house. But how do you know whether you are buying a home in good condition or a money pit? You can go a long way toward getting an answer by hiring a qualified home inspector to scrutinize the property before you buy.

Why hire a home inspector?

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If you're like most people, the purchase of a home will be your biggest investment by far. So, as with other big investments, you should be knowledgeable about what you are buying. Although you can examine the home yourself, most people simply don't have the expertise of a qualified home inspector. A good home inspector is knowledgeable about construction practices in the area and about what holds up over time. He or she will spot problems not apparent to an untrained eye, and will provide you with a full report on the condition of the property.

What does a home inspection cover?

  • You can expect a home inspector to report on the major components of a home, including:
  • The structure of the house, including the foundation, walls, ceilings, and stairs
  • The exterior, including chimneys, roofing, flashing, siding, gutters, grading, patios, decks, and driveway
  • The interior, including visible insulation and ventilation, steps, counters, railings, cabinetry, and finishes
  • Plumbing, including visible piping, fixtures, drains, and water heater
  • Electrical system components, including wiring, fixtures, and overload protection
  • Heating and air conditioning systems, including type, capacity, condition, and safety
  • The basement or crawl space, including construction, stability, settling, water damage, and visible termite or rot damage
  • The attic, including access, ventilation, insulation, and signs of leakage

The inspector may also take samples for laboratory tests, or recommend a specialist to test for such things as water quality and levels of radon gas. You might have to hire separate experts to inspect for termites or other pests, or inspect special home features such as septic systems, wells, or swimming pools.

After the home inspector completes the review of the property, a detailed home inspection report should be generated that discusses the condition of the property and each of its major components.

When does the inspection take place, and what do I do with the report?

An inspection will usually take place after the parties have agreed on a selling price. Any offer or purchase agreement (typically called a P&S) that you sign should require a satisfactory home inspection. If the purchase contract is contingent on an inspector's review of the property, you should be able to negotiate a price adjustment or ask the sellers to make repairs if unexpected problems are found. If your inspector finds significant problems, you should be able to get out of the deal and have your deposits refunded. Of course, it's a good idea to have a lawyer review any agreements before you sign them to make sure that you are adequately protected.

If the inspector does not discover any significant problems, you will have the benefit of a more thorough understanding of the property. Inspection reports usually provide a lot of helpful maintenance information, so a detailed report is like having an owner's manual for your home.

Note: You should be present when the inspector is doing the inspection. You will learn a great deal about your new home and how to maintain it by accompanying the inspector and asking questions throughout the inspection.

How do I find a good home inspector?

Most states do not license home inspectors, so you will have to do all the screening to find a good one. Ask for referrals from friends, relatives, or your attorney. Because of the potential for a conflict of interest, be wary of inspectors who are referred to you by a real estate agent involved in the transaction. While a real estate agent may refer you to a qualified inspector, remember that real estate agents (both traditional seller's agents and buyer's agents) often get paid only after the sale is completed. An agent might therefore be tempted to steer you to a less-than-thorough home inspector to keep the sale on track.

Home inspectors' credentials

Ask whether the home inspector is a member of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). ASHI is a national organization that enforces a code of conduct and practice standards. ASHI also tests applicants and requires that they possess a certain amount of experience before they are granted membership. In addition to ASHI membership, ask your home inspector candidates the following questions:

  • If licensing is required in your state, is the inspector licensed to perform inspections?
  • How long has the inspector been in business?
  • How many inspections has the inspector conducted?
  • Can you go with the inspector on the inspection?
  • Can you review a sample report for thoroughness?
  • Can you have references from previous clients? (Call several to ask their opinion of the candidate.)

Ask about errors and omissions insurance
Ask whether a home inspector candidate carries errors and omissions insurance or is bonded. An insurance policy or a bond will help protect you if the inspector misses a problem that should have been discovered during the inspection. Home inspectors who do not carry insurance will be less likely to pay a claim than those who do. Even among the states that require home inspectors to be licensed, only a few mandate that they purchase insurance or post a bond. So, in most states, errors and omissions coverage or bonding is optional.

Although not all good inspectors carry insurance, inspectors who are unconcerned with protecting their customers are less likely to be insured. Consequently, insurance coverage is one indication that an inspector intends to be in business for the long haul and wants to satisfy every customer to maintain a good reputation.

Please note that this description/explanation is intended only as a guideline.

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