Home inspectors are the unsung heroes of real estate.
When you’re shopping for a home, the sellers have worked hard to stage it and spruce up its curb appeal to put its best foot forward. But how will you know what you’re really getting? It’s the home inspector’s job to give your potential dream home a thorough inspection for any flaws that might not be immediately visible to the average person. Great home inspectors know residential construction inside and out, so they can point out problems that you should be aware of before you commit to such a big purchase.
A thorough home inspection report will let you know exactly what’s in good condition and what needs repairs so you can make an informed decision about buying. When armed with a detailed home inspection report, a buyer can — with the help of a talented real estate agent — negotiate for the seller to make repairs or lower the sales price to account for major problems.
In short, a home inspection is worth its weight in gold, and you definitely don’t want to skip this important step.
But how do you know which home inspector to hire? Should you go with an individual contractor or a major inspection company?
Whether you’re a first-time home buyer or an experienced real estate agent, choosing an inspector with the right credentials and experience is key. Here’s what you need to know to make a decision you can be confident in.
Qualifications to look for in a home inspector
The single most important criteria for choosing a great home inspector is experience.
That’s because home inspectors need to know about all major systems and components of a house. A thorough inspection covers the following:
- The structure of the house
- Exterior cladding
- Roof systems
- Plumbing systems
- Electrical systems
- HVAC systems
- Interiors, including ceilings, walls, doors, windows and floors
- Fireplaces and chimneys
- Installed appliances
That’s a lot of ground to cover, and even more to have a good working knowledge of. A thorough inspection requires a deep understanding of all aspects of residential construction, and this takes years of experience to develop. To ensure that your inspector really knows houses, check for significant work experience in construction. Good past experience to look for includes:
- General contractor work
- Subcontracting experience in home building, including framing and carpentry
- HVAC experience
- Certified electricians
- Certified plumbers
Reputable inspectors will be happy to tell you about their experience in the trades, so all you have to do is ask. The internet can also be a big help in vetting a home inspector, since many will list their years of construction experience directly on their websites. If you’re thinking of working with a larger home inspection firm, check bios and the “About Us” page for details about relevant experience.
You’ll also want to make sure that any inspector you consider holds a current home inspection license if it is required by your state.
Each state has its own requirements for inspectors, and many require a license for home inspectors to legally conduct inspections. States with a licensing process typically require a minimum number of hours of coursework and a licensing exam to prove a satisfactory level of knowledge. Thirty-four states require inspectors to pass the National Home Inspector Exam to practice.
Not all states issue an official home inspection license and may instead certify and/or register qualified inspectors. Certification requirements, like licensure requirements, can vary widely depending on state laws and may include specific coursework or a minimum number of apprenticeship hours.
Feeling confused? The best way to check up on a potential home inspector’s licensure is to check the requirements in your state. From there, you can ask any home inspector under consideration for a copy of their license, certification, or any other state requirements. A properly licensed or certified home inspector will always be willing to show you their credentials and provide their license number for you to check.
Just as lawyers have the American Bar Association (ABA) and doctors have the American Medical Association (AMA), home inspectors also have a professional organization — in fact, they have several. There’s the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) and the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI), among others. Florida has FABI (the Florida Association of Building Inspectors), California has CREIA (the California Real Estate Inspection Association, and so on.
Home inspectors might choose to belong to these organizations to network with other professionals, keep up on the latest news and changes in the industry, and have access to continuing education to keep their skills sharp. Though many home inspectors are passionately loyal to one organization over another, both ASHI and InterNACHI are reputable and desirable affiliations to look for on a potential home inspector’s resume.
Why? For starters, ASHI requires all associate members to be licensed in states where it is required, as well as pass a background check and education module about home inspection ethics and standards of practice. From there, members can rise in the ranks by completing a certain number of home inspections and passing report verification. At the highest level, ASHI Certified Inspectors have completed 250 paid inspections, so you get the peace of mind of knowing that you are hiring a qualified, experienced inspector.
InterNACHI offers its own certification options to members. To become an InterNACHI Certified Professional Inspector (CPI), inspectors must complete courses in ethics and standards of practice, along with simulated home inspections. They also maintain their certification with continuing education courses each year.
Membership in these professional organizations is optional, but it typically shows a level of seriousness and dedication. Most inspectors with certifications and professional memberships will proudly display them on their websites, so be sure to check.
Tips for choosing a reliable home inspector
Now that you know what to look for in a good home inspector, how can you find one? Try these tips to choose the best inspector for the job.
- Ask your real estate agent for a recommendation: You’ll probably only be a home buyer a few times in your life, so you can be forgiven for not knowing many inspectors. But your real estate broker participates in the home-buying process on a regular basis. He or she almost certainly knows a few local inspectors that can be counted on to do great work. Just ask!
- Check online reviews: These days, it’s easier than ever to research testimonials and references. Yelp, Google, the Better Business Bureau, and Angie’s List are all great places to find out what past clients really thought about your prospective inspector.
- Ask to see a sample inspection report: One of the quickest ways to get a sense of whether you’ll get a thorough inspection is to take a look at some work samples. When you look over this paperwork, you’re looking for a detailed home inspection checklist — a sign that your prospective inspector is thorough and doesn’t rely on memory or vague impressions. You’ll also want to see legible, comprehensive notes that clearly explain any potential problems that came up in the inspection process.
- Ask how long they’ve been in business: This is an easy way to gauge an inspector’s experience level. Someone who’s been inspecting homes for at least three years will have seen hundreds of houses — and probably thousands of common problems. You may also be able to find this information on their website.
- Check for licenses, certifications, and professional affiliations: This data will provide proof that your inspector has the proper education, training, and legal rights to conduct your inspection. If this information isn’t displayed prominently on a website, just ask!
Realtor pro tip: If you’re looking to broaden your connections to include additional home inspectors, try asking for recommendations from your professional network. Other real estate professionals should have great connections. Do a little digging to find out if they are punctual, courteous, and if they return calls quickly — all characteristics that will impress your clients and keep the process running smoothly.
The bottom line
When you’re ready to purchase a new home, don’t go in blind. Hiring a home inspector is a must; hiring a great one can help you save money: 46% of people surveyed were able to negotiate a lower price on their home thanks to the information in the inspection report.
It’s also a good idea to gather a few price quotes and research several candidates to compare experience and credentials. When you do your due diligence, you can feel confident that you’ve hired the right inspector for this all-important job.
Need a head start on finding your next home inspector? Try HomeGauge’s database of excellent inspectors to get started today.