How to choose a home inspector
Q. In the past, I've hired good and bad home inspectors. Now that I'm buying another home, I want my next inspector to be the best. My agent has given me some referrals, but I'd like some guidelines for making a wise choice.
A. Your question is a prudent one because home inspectors are definitely not equal in their abilities to discover property defects. As with any profession, from mechanics to medicine, some practitioners are going to outshine others.
Here are some guidelines for choosing a home inspector who will provide you with thorough disclosure.
• Professional reputation: With the advent of Yelp, it is possible to learn how customers report their experiences with various home inspectors. This can be very helpful in determining how thorough home inspectors are when performing their inspections, writing their reports and interacting with customers. Another way to test an inspector's reputation is to call several real estate offices and ask, "Who is the nit-pickiest home inspector in town?" You might even say that you want to know which inspector is known as "the Deal Killer."
• Inspection experience: Home inspectors are often perceived as general contractors who happen to inspect homes. Although building knowledge is essential to a home inspector, construction experience does not prepare one for the demands of forensic investigation; just as being a traffic cop does not prepare one to be a crime detective. In fact, the average apprenticeship for a home inspector is at least 1,000 inspections. Contractors who disagree with this opinion are invited to take the House Detective Challenge: Call the nearest professional home inspector with at least five years of full-time field experience and conduct separate inspections of the same building. Then compare findings. That's where the consumer-protection difference becomes apparent.
• Professional affiliations: Licensing of home inspectors is required in many states but not all. Regardless of licensing, the best inspectors are members of professional associations such as the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) and similar state organizations. Members must adhere to strict standards of practice, while participating in ongoing education. This does not mean that all members are highly qualified, but highly qualified inspectors, with rare exceptions, are definitely members. When you choose a home inspector, specify membership in one of these recognized guilds.
• Errors and omissions insurance: A critical aspect of professional accountability is insurance for faulty inspections. Undiscovered defects can range from minor maintenance problems to structural failure, from leaking faucets to major fire hazards. Inspectors who take their business seriously carry insurance for these unfortunate mistakes.
• Ask for a sample report: The proof is in the product. So, request a copy of a previous report. The best format should not only be detailed and comprehensive, but easily interpreted, making a clear distinction between defective building conditions and "boiler plate" verbiage. Some reports are so encumbered with maintenance recommendations and liability disclaimers that pertinent information about the property is obscured. A quality report lets defect disclosure stand out distinctly, in contrast with less essential data.
• Avoid price shopping: Inspection fees vary widely. The price of a quality inspection is typically between $400 and $600 for an average-size home. Lower fees should be regarded with suspicion, as they often identify those who are new to the business or who spend insufficient time performing an inspection. A home is the most expensive commodity you are likely to purchase in a lifetime. One defect missed by your inspector could cost 100 times what you'd save with a bargain inspection. The best method of price shopping is to shop for quality.
• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.
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