In the typical residential home purchase, the buyer receives only one expert review of the residence prior to purchase – the home inspector’s report. While economical and useful, the limitations of these reports must be taken into consideration. Too often, the significance of the home inspector report is overstated, leaving the buyer and seller exposed to unreasonable expectations that can lead to disagreements and even lawsuits.
- check your state’s requirements to become a home inspector
- check for credentials
- check your contract – is the inspector insured?
- be prepared to consult with a specialized expert if necessary
- understand that even with a good home inspection, risk remains
- pick the lowest, pick the best
- overestimate what the inspector can evaluate
- ask your realtor about the report
- look for a guarantee the home was built well
Some states, including California, have no licensing or state certification for home inspectors. Others, such as Arizona, certify but do not license home inspectors. Many states, including New York, New Jersey, Mississippi, Washington and others, require home inspectors to be licensed. A license is not a guarantee that an inspector will do a good job, but it is at least an indication that the inspector has completed a minimum level of education.
There are a number of credentialing organizations – CREIA, ASHI, NAHI. These organizations are the leading home inspector trade groups, and each have their own qualifications, exams and codes of ethic. Insist on certification from one of these organizations. Watch out for so-called “company certifications,” which are simply in-house programs and not subject to any oversight.
Unfortunately, sometimes an inspector can miss important items in a home that can be indicators of a significant repair issue. In the event that occurs, you will be disappointed if the inspector does not have the ability to pay for the repair of the item they missed. Make sure you hire an inspector with current liability insurance.
Sometimes an inspector will report on a significant item that requires particular expertise. For example, if a question is raised regarding soil stability, a soils engineer may be required to advise you. If a floor seems too bouncy, or there are cracks in walls, a structural engineer may be needed to determine if the problem is significant. An architect or general contractor might be needed to tell you how an unpermitted addition can be legitimized with the building department.
The home inspector is a start, but not necessarily the final word on things. Protect yourself by bringing in the appropriate expert if the inspection report indicates a potential problem.
A home inspection involves a visual inspection. Review the home inspection contract and you will typically see that the inspector is alerting you to the limitations of the inspection. This is necessary to help remind you that they will not be tearing open walls, exposing the waterproofing of windows, or removing any part of the home to inspect what is covered by the normal process of construction. There is still the risk of potential problems even if the inspector did a good assessment of the property in question.
You are hiring expertise, and presumably you want the best. Prices of home inspectors are not set and it can be tempting to hire the cheapest. There may be a reason why someone’s price is low. Are they new? Do they take far less time to render the inspection? Do they have a poor reputation and have to use a catchy low price to get business?
Home inspections are relative to the price of a home, and a miniscule cost. Don’t worry about the price – hire the best available.
Home inspections are normally a purely visual inspection. The inspector cannot see inside the walls to check if the framing is solid, or if the plumbing or wiring was properly installed. Most of the important elements of a typical home are not visible to the home inspector. Therefore, the inspector looks for clues. However, the absence of cracks in a wall does not mean the wall is strong, and the absence of a stain on the ceiling does not necessarily mean the roof is watertight.
Home inspectors provide a valuable service, but all too often homebuyers assume too much about what they can do.
Realtors are not construction or inspection experts. Their expertise is finding properties for buyers and finding buyers for sellers. A realtor may often try to be helpful in offering their opinion or suggestion about the content of an inspection report. Remember, they are not qualified to make construction or inspection recommendations. If you want advice, talk to a contractor, engineer or architect.
A home inspection report that lists no problems does not mean the home is well built. It simply means the inspector did not observe any evidence or indications of problems.
Home inspections are a valuable tool for the homebuyer and should be a routine part of the homebuying process. However, don’t overstate what they are able to do.
There is risk in buying something built by someone else, and that risk is impossible to completely eliminate. Know that with a qualified and competent home inspector, you are doing what you reasonably can to reduce that risk.