February 6th, 2019 9:15 AM by Jackie A. Graves
FREEHomePurchaseAnalysis FREEFHAHomePurchaseAnalysis FREEVAHomePurchaseAnalysis
A physical inspection is an important part of buying a home, but
picking the wrong inspector can be costly.
Buying a new home is supposed to be a joyous experience—not one
that leaves you kicking yourself for having made a colossal mistake.
So Tiffany Holley and her husband were understandably upset when
they discovered that the home they had just moved into had a plumbing problem
that had been causing raw sewage to spill into the foundation's crawlspace. The
home inspector they'd hired prior to buying the house had failed to uncover the
"I was so mad," says Holley, adding that she and her
husband would not have bought the house if they had known they'd be hit with
the significant cost of cleaning up and repairing the damage.
The Holleys' experience underscores the importance of choosing a
good home inspector. Although it is not generally required by mortgage lenders,
nearly 80 percent of those buying homes not newly built opt for an inspection
to make sure there are no problems with the structure, roof, heating, plumbing
and electrical systems, among other things, says Tim Buell, president of
the American Society of Home
which trains and certifies inspectors, and sets standards for the industry.
Sometimes purchasers of new homes also hire inspectors. So do
sellers who want to know about any problems their home may have before listing
But finding a good inspector can be tricky. There are thousands of
inspectors nationwide. But some may lack adequate training, especially in the
18 states and Washington, D.C., that don't require they be licensed, says
Buell. And even in states that license inspectors, the requirements for
experience, training, and continuing education vary significantly.
Complicating matters further is the issue of home inspector
certification. Along with ASHI, there are two other major professional
inspector associations, each with its own standards, education programs,
testing, and levels of certification: the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) and
the National Academy of Building Inspection Engineers (NABIE), which
certifies professional engineers and architects who do general inspections.
But it is not as though being licensed by a state or certified by
a trade group is a guarantee that an inspector will do great work. Last
month, Consumers' Checkbook, an independent nonprofit advocacy group that
rates local services, announced the results of an undercover investigation that revealed
shortcomings in the 12 home inspections that had been ordered for a
three-bedroom house that had 28 known problems. All inspectors were licensed
The group said five of the inspectors failed to examine the home’s
window air conditioners. Only three made close-up inspections of the roof,
which was badly damaged. And just half bothered to test the windows by opening
and closing them. It reported that none of the inspectors “performed very well,
and as a group they spotted only about half of the problems.”
“Part of the problem was that some inspectors were clearly sloppy,
lazy, or both,” the group said in announcing the results.
Complaints about home inspectors abound on the BBB website and
elsewhere online. But there are steps you can take to find a qualified home
inspector who will do good work.
Know what to expect. A basic inspection takes about 2 to 3 hours
and costs from around $300 to $1,000, depending on the home’s location and
size, the inspector’s experience, and the scope of the inspection itself.
To learn what a typical inspection does and does not require, the
home inspection trade associations’ websites can be informative. The list may
For example, among the items that InterNACHI says inspectors
aren’t required to examine are a home’s chimney flue, swimming pool, solar
heating and water treatment systems, lawn irrigation and home security
equipment, or even the washing machine and other appliances. And inspectors
typically don’t test the water quality or for the presence of radon, lead
paint, or mold.
Some inspectors offer these and other additional services, though
you may need to pay more.
To see what inspection reports look like and how they can differ,
check the reports posted by InterNACHI or simply search online for
samples, such as the one we found from Texas-based Professional Engineering Inspections (pdf). Finally,
check your state’s home inspector
regulations and licensing requirements, if any.
Find an inspector. "Try to get recommendations from someone you know,"
advises Buell. You can also check the professional association websites for
members by location. You’ll find details about their experience and
certifications and the services they provide. Other resources include the
Better Business Bureau, Angie’s List, and Consumers' Checkbook in the seven
metro areas it covers.
If you’re concerned about a home’s structure, consider hiring a
professional engineer or architect who also does general home inspections,
advises Consumers’ Checkbook executive editor Kevin Brasler, who worked on the
group’s inspector investigation.
But be prepared to pay more. Edward Robinson, a professional
engineer and president of Professional Engineering Inspections in Houston,
estimates that the $600 to $800 he charges to inspect a typical three-bedroom
home is about double what someone in the Houston area would pay for a
One caution: Think twice about hiring an inspector recommended by
your real estate agent. Because inspections can cost the agent the sale, an
inspector may feel obligated to go easy.
"Unless you deeply trust your agent, find you own
inspector," says Brasler. One agent told us she would stop recommending
inspectors who she felt were too nitpicky and likely to cost her sales.
Consider the timing. Ideally, an inspection should occur after the
buyer and seller sign a contract, says Albany, N.Y.–based attorney Beth Carey,
who specializes in real estate transactions. The agreement should include a
contingency clause allowing the buyer to cancel if the inspector finds serious
But in some parts of the country, says Carey, sellers want the
inspection done before the contract signing. That’s risky for buyers, who can
end up spending hundreds of dollars for an inspection only to see the seller
pull out out of the deal because of a better offer or for any other reason. If
you’re concerned, says Carey, try negotiating for a post-contract inspection.
Check credentials. Verify the inspector has any state-required licenses, advises
Buell. It’s also wise to select an inspector that has a top certification from
at least one of the major professional associations. “I think any of the
organizations have made an honest attempt to put together a legitimate
certificate program,” says former NABIE executive director David
Ask questions. First, go through the house and jot down any potential
problems you see, advises Brasler. Then find out exactly what the inspector
will and won’t examine. He recommends asking for sample reports and reviewing
If you’re concerned about items not on the inspection list, ask
whether those ancillary inspections can be added and at what cost. But make
sure the inspector is qualified to do them. If not, you may need to find
another inspector or hire additional professionals, such as a roofer, electrician,
plumber, pest expert, or professional engineer.
Find out how long the inspection will take and when you'll receive
a written report, which should include photographs. Also make sure that you’ll
be allowed to accompany the inspector and ask questions.
Brasler also recommends asking what happens if the inspector
misses problems. He says the inspection contracts he reviewed say the
inspectors’ maximum liability is cost of inspection. But Buell and Carlysle
agree that the inspector should be on the hook for the repair.
“If there is something that should have been caught, the inspector
needs to pay for it and turn it over to his insurance company,” says Carlysle.
Some states, including New Jersey and Arizona, require inspectors
to carry errors and omission insurance, which can cover the cost of an
Find out what others are saying. There are many resources
for user opinions about home inspection companies, including Angie’s List, the
Better Business Bureau, HomeAdvisor, Yelp, and Consumers’ Checkbook. Try a web
search and the name of the company and such terms as "complaints" and
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