How would you grade your Home Inspector?
When making what is likely the biggest investment of your life (a home purchase), it is a wise thing to hire a home inspector. In some states, this is even required by law as a routine part of any real estate transaction. Idaho has no such requirement… leaving the decision to inspect a home as merely an “option” to both parties in the transaction. Not very long ago, there were no Home Inspectors at all, as the Home Inspection industry is a fairly new phenomenon. So, you are about to buy (or sell) a home and you decide to hire a home inspector. How do you find a good one? The right one for you? You could ask your Real Estate Agent for a referral as most people do. This is generally a really bad idea, and is discussed in detail at http://www.oxbowinspections.com/conflictinterest.php
The internet is your best resource to find the home inspector who’s right for you. Go to any search engine (Google, Yahoo, etc…) and type the words “xxxxxxx home inspector”… just replace the “x’s” with the name of the major city nearby. Pick 3 or 4 and compare them. And keep in mind, that just because an inspector comes in as the #1 entry does not mean he is the best. It merely means that his web site is better optimized… so it is wise to spread out your choices amongst the top 15 or 20 presented to you.
Idaho has no laws or regulations that control who may call themselves a “Home Inspector”. That’s right. The night cook at Denny’s can pick up a clipboard, pick out a name, and then pick your pocket. No experience or education is required. When comparing the web sites… look for experience in construction. Look for engineering backgrounds. Look for education. Also… the Home Inspection industry as a whole is self-governed to a degree by several major trade organizations. These include NACHI ( National Association of Certified Home Inspectors) and ASHI (American Society of Home Inspectors) just to name a few. Make sure that your inspector belongs to at least one of these. The reasons are many… but primarily these organizations have established standard operating procedures and ethical guidelines which their inspectors must follow. They also establish certain education and experience standards which are critically important since the State of Idaho has no standards at all.
Knowledge of building codes is an important part of being a home inspector. These codes exist for a reason… usually as a response to construction issues which went wrong and caused death and/or property destruction. Understanding how all the building systems (Plumbing, Heating, Electrical etc…) are connected and designed to work together to achieve the minimum standards set out in codes and regulations is vital to accuracy when inspecting any building. Your inspector of choice should be real familiar with the International Code Council.
Proper equipment is an important part of home inspections. Do you want the quickest way to tell if your home inspector is truly a professional? Look at his vehicle and the type of ladder he is using. I know of several “Inspectors” who use a small economy car or an XUV and have only a collapsible ladder that will fit inside. So ask yourself… how is he going to inspect your roof with a ladder that collapses? Most (not all) ladders of this type only extend to 21.5 feet and are rarely rated for more than 200 pounds. This would be like hiring a man with a hatchet to cut down a 70 foot Oak tree. As for me: I drive a full length Suburban which is professionally adorned with company logo and identification, and it not only carries all of my tools, test equipment, and reference materials… it also gets 22+ mpg and runs on corn/flex fuel… it also carries my three ladders which range from 8 feet to 30 feet (none are collapsible).
Look for those details that set your inspector out from the rest. Things like his dress. Does he have a uniform or monogrammed shirts, or is he wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt? A necktie is a bad idea… would that guy be willing to climb into an attic or a crawlspace? Likely not. I wear stretch slacks and a monogrammed polo-type shirt for maximum flexibility, with traction shoes for those tough roofs. My uniform is blue and black… just like my Suburban and my web site. Other details: his weight. If he is grossly overweight… how in the world can he negotiate a crawlspace or an attic? He can’t. Also, look for identification. The trade organizations that I described previously (NACHI, ASHI) do issue formal identification tags. These identify a member in good standing. Ask to see his I.D.
What about his pricing? Most inspectors have fairly low prices in order to stay competitive. If so… you should beware. This is the kind of guy who will tack on an extra $25 (or more) for gasoline fees beyond a certain distance. They also tend to charge more for older homes; charge more for larger homes; charge more for outbuildings; and charge a lot more for things like a Radon test. Before you know it, your “real” final bill will be several hundred dollars more than his advertised “base” price. And since I mentioned Radon… many inspectors will conduct a Radon test for a large extra fee. They use the same cheap charcoal canisters that you or I can purchase at Lowe’s. Do they know anything about Radon? Likely not. Ask for their certifications or identification. At the time of this writing, I am the only Home Inspector in all of Idaho who is certified by the National Radon Safety Board.
The inspection itself: How long does it take your inspector to complete? Most will finish in the 2 – 3 hour time frame so they can squeeze in 2 – 3 inspections per day and maximize their income. Rediculous! I will often spend 2 hours in the crawlspace alone! On average… my inspections take about 7½ hours. A professional Home Inspector will take you around your home, not only pointing out defects but also showing you areas that will require future maintenance. He will educate you on where shut offs are located and explain discrepancies that he cited in his report. Whenever you book a home inspection, you should never miss this golden opportunity to learn about the systems and features of your home.
The bottom line is: Choose your own Home Inspector. Grade several of them… then choose the one that’s right for you. When your Inspector arrives… grade him again. It is still not too late to choose someone else. Keep in mind that this is a huge investment you are making, and you should protect your investment by using the best inspector you can find. You are likely spending several hundred thousand dollars… so choosing an Inspector based on price in order to save a hundred bucks is just not smart. You will likely get exactly what you pay for.