How to find and hire a home inspector
When you're buying a house, your best friend can be the inspector.
A house inspector can let you know if you're about to buy a lemon of a house or
warn you about potential problems. At best, you can move into the house confident
that it's in good shape; at worst, the inspector's report can let you back out
of the deal if the house has major, unexpected problems.
general inspector can't detect every problem, though. That's why it helps to know
how to select an inspector and when to call in a specialist.
inspectors look for
"What a home inspector does is provide an independent
review of the property, not influenced by any of the other professions
in the transaction," says Mike Casey, an inspector based in
Haymarket, Va., and a past president of the American Society of
What Casey means is that the inspector doesn't
have a stake in the outcome of the inspection. Inspectors get paid whether or
not the sale goes through. In contrast, lenders and real estate agents make a
profit when the sale closes.
About 85 percent of buyers hire inspectors. Most
of those buyers have a clause in the purchase contract that makes
the sale contingent on acceptable results of an inspection. The
buyer can void the purchase or renegotiate the offer if serious
problems are found.
The cost of a home inspection
varies by inspector, region and size of house. A common price is $200 to $250
-- about 40 percent of buyers pay in that range. A typical home inspection includes
an assessment of:
- exterior features such as outside walls,
soffits, decks, the roof, chimneys and drainage conditions;
items, such as the condition of windows, doors, plumbing fixtures and electrical
outlets and switches;
- heating and cooling systems;
the attic and crawl space and whether they have adequate insulation and ventilation.
Casey says inspectors do visual inspections -- "we don't take things apart"
-- to look for evidence that an item is close to failure. They can't tell you
exactly how many years are left on the roof, but can tell you if it needs replacing
"We're looking for big surprises and
anything that's a significant safety hazard," Casey says.
they don't look for
Casey calls home inspectors "expert
generalists." Usually they're not equipped to do specialized work, such as
checking for termites. That's a job for a pest inspector.
Likewise, you usually have to hire specialists to assess the conditions of swimming
pools, septic systems, underground storage tanks for heating oil and the health
of trees and shrubs (don't blame the inspector for not detecting a dead tree in
the winter). There are exceptions: some general inspectors are qualified to examine
swimming pools and septic systems, Casey says.
Not all inspectors
assess appliances, such as washers, dryers, dishwashers, refrigerators and stoves.
Inspectors who are members of ASHI are forbidden to have a professional interest
in the sale, repair or maintenance of a property they inspect. They're not supposed
to use their inspection business as a way to find customers for a handyman service
that they happen to own.
Hiring an inspector
The most common way to find an inspector is through a real estate agent's
referral. If you would rather find the inspector yourself, you can ask friends
and relatives who they have hired, look in the Yellow Pages under "Building
inspectors" or "Home inspectors," or visit the ASHI Web site, which
has a search
page that allows you to type in your ZIP code and get a list of certified
inspectors in your area. Or you can call an ASHI referral line at (800) 743-2744.
Inspectors usually recommend that the buyer accompany them as they look at the
house. They can explain the severity of any problems they find, give maintenance
tips and answer questions.
"The buyer should see
what the inspector sees so there's no misunderstanding," Casey says.
What if the inspector misses something major?
qualified inspector, that shouldn't happen," Casey says.
if it does happen, your options might be spelled out in the contract. Some inspectors
have a clause in the contract that limits their liability to the cost of the inspection.
Some contracts have arbitration clauses that limit your ability to file a lawsuit.
Some inspectors carry errors and omissions insurance, "which is kind of like
malpractice insurance in case something major is missed," Casey says.
ASHI is the nation's largest home-inspector trade association. To become a member,
an inspector has to pass a test, have performed at least 250 inspections and pass
another test that covers standards of practice and the code of ethics. Members
are required to take 20 hours of continuing education annually to keep abreast
of new materials, building standards, technologies and inspection techniques.
ASHI isn't the only game in town. There's also the National Association of Home
Inspectors, which has similar standards. NAHI's Web site allows you to search
for a local inspector.