Dear Steve,
We are considering purchasing an older home and have been advised to acquire the services of a home inspector, which seems like a good idea. This home also has a pool that was added about 15 or 20 years ago. What should we look for in a home inspector?

Sean B.

Dear Sean,
You’ve received sound advice. Hiring an inspector is not just a good idea, it’s an essential step in the home-buying process. It is, in fact, the most efficient way to expose potential underlying problems in a house that could otherwise sock you for thousands of dollars in repair expenses after the purchase.

A good inspector will examine a house from top to bottom, ascertaining the integrity of its foundation, walls, doors, windows, ceilings and roof, as well as the viability of heating, air-conditioning, electrical and plumbing systems. And the stricter and more thorough the inspector, the better. Do not pick an inspector based on a reference from your agent or the seller’s agent because they may be more interested in greasing the wheels of a deal. Obviously, a picky inspector doesn’t facilitate this.

Conduct reasonably brief phone interviews with at least two or three inspectors. Read my previous column, ”
5 questions to ask a home inspector,” for relevant issues to discuss with them and tips on finding seasoned inspectors in your market.

Beyond that, you should know there are some things inspectors typically don’t cover. Foremost among them are pest inspections, which look for termites and other wood-boring critters ($100 or so), tree inspections, which pinpoint diseased or hazardous trees ($100 to $300) and yes, a swimming pool inspection ($100 or so), where the pumps, expansion joints and other elements are examined. Caution: If you’re buying in cold-weather months, the pool likely won’t be in operating shape and is a little harder and more expensive to inspect.

Many standard home inspectors are qualified to perform these additional inspections, for an extra fee of course.

You mentioned you are eyeing an older home. If by chance it is 80 years old or older, ask the inspection firm for an old-home specialist. Such classic homes can have unique problems related to old mechanical systems and wiring, abandoned pipes, basement moisture, tilting floors and poor septic-system drainage.

The last thing you should base your inspector-hiring decision on is price. Otherwise, you might just get what you pay for.

To ask a question of the Real Estate Adviser, go to the ”
Ask the Experts” page, and select “buying, selling a home” as the topic.