Questions to ask before hiring a home inspector
Having been a home inspector for almost 18 years, I have had several friends and family members ask me the following questions:
How do I choose the best home inspector?
How do I find the right home inspector?
How do I know which home inspector I should hire?
The answer to these questions is very important, and is a concern of many home buyers because these people understand the importance of getting a good home inspection before purchasing a new home.
Other than choosing the right home, choosing the right home inspector is one of the most important decisions that you can make in the home-buying process. The reason for this is simple. A well-trained and experienced inspector will use his or her knowledge to help you to understand the true condition of the home that you are considering purchasing. This knowledge is essential as you go forward with the contract to purchase the home, negotiate for repairs, or back out of the contract altogether. How to choose the best home inspector to help you in this crucial process is the question that I will answer for you in this blog.
Just because a home inspector has a license or is certified does not necessarily make him or her a good inspector; therefore, it is critical to know who you are hiring. Ten different inspectors could perform a home inspection on the same house, and every one of the inspections and resulting reports would be different. Some reports would be long, others short. Some better written, others not so well written. Some of the inspections would be more thorough than others. Some inspectors would explain things better than others. And not one of the reports would list all of the same details and problems with the house.
Why would all of the home inspections in the scenario above be different? Because all home inspectors are different. Home inspections are not a commodity – that means that you can’t just select a home inspector “off of the shelf” and expect to get the same thing as you would get if you randomly selected any of the others that are also sitting on that “shelf.”
You can price shop and buy the cheapest gallon of gas and know that the gas at one gas station is essentially the same as the gas at the station down the road because gas is a commodity. However, buying a home inspection is not like buying a gallon of gas. Home inspectors come in all shapes and sizes: different experiences, different levels of education, different training, etc., so you cannot simply choose a random home inspector and expect to get the best inspection.
When you hire an inspector, you are paying for that inspector’s knowledge, experience, training, attention to detail, personality, etc. That is why it is critical that you know who you are hiring to assist you with the largest purchase of your life. Fortunately, it is easier today than ever before to research and learn about any product that you are considering buying – and this includes learning about individual home inspectors or home inspection companies.
Below is a list of nine questions that you should ask before you hire a home inspector. You don’t necessarily need to ask the inspector all of these questions, but with a little online research and some questions directly to the inspector, your chances of receiving a high-quality inspection are greatly increased. This will help to protect you, your family, and your investment.
Here are the nine questions to ask before hiring your home inspector.
- How long have you been inspecting?
This is single-most important thing you can learn about an inspector. Longevity means that they must be doing something right. It also means that they haveincreased experience and knowledge that has been gained by performing many inspections. My suggestion is to hire an inspector who has either been inspecting for at least five years or has performed at least 1000 inspections. From my personal experience of doing over 5,000 inspections I know how much there is to learn as an inspector. I still see and learn new things on many of my inspections.
Some of my learning has come the hard way. Yes, I have made some mistakes over the years - and each one of those mistakes has taught me something. Each mistake has added to my knowledge and helps me make sure that I never miss that same problem again on any home. My mistakes remind me that no one, including myself, is perfect and that I must be extremely attentive on every inspection that I perform. I’m sure that many other inspectors have experienced this same learning process. Do you want a new, inexperienced inspector learning at your expense?
When I first started inspecting, my brain was full of knowledge that was gained in my inspection schools. Using this knowledge, I pointed out some pretty insignificant things as deficiencies. As I gained some experience, I learned what things really matter to a buyer, and what issues really are and aren’t that big of a deal. You DON’T want your inspector making a mountain out of a mole hill. And you DO want your inspector to emphasize the truly important stuff. All of this comes with experience.
People gain the knowledge to become a home inspector (i.e. to pass the exam) by attending schools, but the only way to actually learn to be a home inspector is by inspecting a lot of homes.
- Do you do this fulltime?
You want an inspector who does this for a living, not just as a side job. You want someone who is dedicated to the profession to assist you with such an important purchase. A house will likely be the largest purchase that you will ever make. It will be your family’s home – a place to keep your family safe and comfortable.
In my opinion, people who do any job full-time are more committed and passionate about the job, and about doing it right. I want someone who is truly dedicated and committed to his or her profession to take on this important job for me. Purchasing a home is just too important to trust such a crucial job to a part-time inspector.
- Are there any parts of the home that you typically don’t access, such as the roof, attic or crawlspace?
Most inspectors go onto the roof and into the attic and the crawlspace under at home. However, there are some inspectors who choose not to go onto the roof or into the attic or crawlspace for various reasons.
At times, there may be a very valid reason that an inspector will not go onto the roof. Maybe the roof is too steep or wet or icy making it slick and dangerous. No inspector is going to do something that he or she deems dangerous. Sometimes inspectors cannot get into the attic or crawlspace because the opening is not large enough or because there just is not enough room to get inside. These are all situations that every inspector will encounter now and then, and these are not the types of situations that I am talking about.
Here is the situation that I am talking about that you should avoid. I have heard of an occasional inspector, who, as a matter of routine, never goes onto a roof. Maybe they consider it unsafe to climb onto roofs. Maybe they’re afraid of heights. To me, the reason why doesn’t matter. I would not want to hire an inspector who I know would not even attempt to go onto the roof or into the crawlspace or attic. These are some of the more critical parts of a home, and I would want them looked at closely.
- How long does a typical inspection take?
No inspection takes the same amount of time, but an inspector should be able and willing to tell you an approximate amount of time that your inspection should take. An average-size house in my area is about 1800 square feet, and this size house would normally take two or three hours to inspect.
Every home is different, and some take longer than others, but if an inspector told me that it would probably only take him an hour to an hour and a half to inspect a house, I would have serious concerns about how thorough he was going to be.
- May I attend the inspection?
Your inspector should absolutely allow you to attend the inspection. Every inspector is different and has their own style. Inspectors don’t want you hovering over them during the inspection, but being there, looking around, and asking a few questions should not be a problem.
My personal preference is for the buyer to show up toward the end of the inspection. This allows me to stick to my routine which helps me not to miss anything. It also allows time at the end of the inspection for me to go over all of my inspection findings, to answer any questions, to explain where things are located and how some things work, and to show them some maintenance items to remember once they own the home. Having said this. I have no problem with my client being present for the entirety of the inspection.
Ultimately, I believe that the choice of whether or not to be present should be yours to make.
- May I see a sample report?
As the purchaser, you want to know what the product for which you are paying will look like. Many inspectors have a copy of a sample report on their website. You want it to be well written and easy to understand. You should want it to include photos that help to explain the items that are described or called out as defective in the report. Some inspectors include a photo of every single defective item found during the inspection. I personally don’t do this, but I am not saying that doing it is wrong.
I believe that it is important to have photos showing the areas where the typical home buyer will not go, such as the attic, crawlspace and roof. Also, having some photos with an arrow pointing to a certain item, or with an item circled and with an explanation can go a long way in helping you to understand what the inspector is referring to. Remember the saying, a picture is worth a thousand words.
How long should the report be? I guess that depends on you. If you just want the facts (what’s wrong with the house), then a shorter report will probably do. If you want all of the details and a lot of additional information to read through, then a longer report would probably be more to your liking.
I have seen reports as short as seven or eight pages, and as long as 50 – 70 pages. I think both of these are too extreme. It definitely takes more than eight pages to properly describe a home, its systems and issues. On the other extreme, I think a 50-page report makes it hard for the client to pick out the really important parts from the stuff that is simply informational, and from the “fluff.”
So, as you are choosing your home inspector, make sure you take a look at their sample reports online and see which style suits you best. Then you can use this as one of your criterion as you decide which inspector you want to hire.
- Are you a member of any inspection organization?
There are several national home inspector organizations, such as ASHI and InterNACHI.There are also some organizations that are specific to a certain state. Most of these organizations require their members to perform their inspections to a higher standard than the state requires. These organizations also require their members to take a certain number of continuing education classes every year. In fact, many organizations that I am aware of have continuing education requirements that go beyond what the states require.
Most states require home inspectors to be licensed, but some do not. You can check here to learn if your state requires inspectors to be licensed. In those states that require licensing, you can be reasonably assured that your home inspector is meeting a minimum standard of regular continuing education, but remember, licensing, in and of itself, in no way guarantees a quality inspection.
If you live in a state that does not require home inspectors to be licensed, you want to be sure that your home inspector is taking continuing education classes regularly, and the inspector’s membership in an organization of inspectors helps to ensure this. Building codes and standards change almost annually, and new products such as air conditioners, furnaces, and water heaters are being developed and improved continually. Also, nobody remembers everything that they have learned in previous courses. Because of this, it is essential that every home inspector take classes each year to stay up to date on standards, products and knowledge.
- How long before I receive the report?
Timeliness is critical in many aspects of a real estate purchase, and this means that you need to receive your inspection report in a timely manner. If issues are found that need to be repaired, then all this has to be negotiated and agreed to before the end of the option period. If serious issues are found that would necessitate you backing out of the contract, then that needs to be done within the option period. Therefore, it is essential that you receive your inspection report soon after the inspection.
Fortunately, today’s technology is making it easier and easier to complete and deliver inspection reports more quickly. Some inspectors will email you the report before they leave the property, and many inspectors will deliver the report before the end of the day of the inspection. I believe that the large majority of inspectors will send the report within 24 hours of the inspection. In my opinion, anything that takes longer than the day after the inspection is too long.
- How much will the home inspection cost?
Although worth considering, this should not be your first concern when choosing a home inspector. When you’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a house, does it really make sense to try to save $50 or $100 on a home inspection if the home inspector that you hire is not the best one for the job? Does it make sense to put that investment at risk by hiring the wrong inspector just to save a few dollars?
When it comes to price, you will likely find a range of prices for your home inspection. If you have checked with several inspectors, and one of them is significantly cheaper than all the others, you shouldn’t automatically think that you have found a great bargain. There are some inspectors who offer home inspections at highly discounted rates compared to most inspectors. Often, there is a reason that they offer such cheap rates, so you must be careful when choosing one of these inspectors.
I personally wouldn’t choose the cheapest inspector. If money is a concern, then I would at least choose one of the average-priced inspectors. If I had some money to spend, I would select one of the higher priced inspectors because there is normally a good reason that they can and do charge higher rates. The old adage, “you get what you pay for” normally applies to your selection of home inspectors.
In this article, I’ve given you some things to think about as you hire a home inspector to inspect your new home. It is important to remember that no two inspectors are the same, and that you should definitely not just choose the inspection solely based on the price tag. There are many other things that you should consider before the cost of the inspection.
I’ve discussed nine questions that I would want answered before hiring a home inspector. Finding answers to these questions before choosing your inspector will greatly increase your odds of hiring a good inspector who will be able to provide a quality inspection that will help to protect your family and your investment.
I encourage you to spend some time on this important decision as it can have consequences for years to come. Those consequences can be either good or bad. Although you may not find the perfect home inspector, you will definitely be able to find a very good one by doing some research. I wish you luck – both in your search for your new home, as well as for your home inspector.
© 2019 Mike Morgan
This article was written by Mike Morgan, the owner of Morgan Inspection Services. Morgan Inspection Services has been providing home, septic and well inspection services throughout the central Texas area since 2002. He can be reached at 325-998-4663 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. No article, or portion thereof, may be reproduced or copied without prior written consent of Mike Morgan.
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