Just as the old adage about the 3 most important factors in real estate are location, location, location, the 3 most important factors in choosing a home inspector are qualifications, qualifications, and qualifications. Home inspections are almost universal today. The high potential volume of business has drawn many into the field. However, in only a few states is the practice regulated at all. When the practice is regulated, it is not by some board composed of practitioners, but often the real estate industry itself. Associations have sprung up to grant “credentials” to home inspectors. But often, these credentials are hollow and meaningless. Pay a fee to the association, submit a copy of one of your reports, and you are “certified.”
What can a consumer do to protect themselves? The single most important test is to check the qualifications of the home inspector. To help you do just that, here are some important questions to ask.
1. How long have you been providing home inspections?
There is no substitute for experience. Many people entered the field in the early 90s, prompted by franchises and business magazines such as Entrepreneur. These magazines and franchises often touted “no experience necessary.” You want to hire someone who has done this before; and not just a few times. Relevant experience is not just limited to home inspections, however. An engineer also brings years of building related practice and a trained ability to consider all relevant factors.
2. Is this your primary business?
Many inspectors provide inspections as a part time business to augment their income. Their commitment to the profession is minimal.
3. Before performing home inspections, what did you do?
It is surprising that so many people believe that they can become home inspectors, even though their previous work experience has been in completely different areas. The inspector you choose should have previous buildings related design or construction experience.
4. Where did you receive your training?
Again, many inspectors believe that a one or two week course will make them competent home inspectors. A short training course may be helpful only if the inspector has already received extensive training in building design or construction.
5. What credentials do you have to perform this work?
Credentials come easy these days. Many groups have been created solely for the purpose of providing “credentials.” In most areas, there is no such thing as a state certified inspector. There are, however, state licensed Professional Engineers (P.E.s). Although engineers are not licensed specifically for home inspections, they are bound by state law to practice only in areas in which they are competent to do so. More importantly, because of their state license, they are more accountable for the work they do.
6. What standards do you subscribe to?
A number of groups have developed standards for home inspections. The most widely known are those developed by the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). However, ASHI standards are voluntary and limited to “observing and reporting” defects. The highest standards in the industry have just been published by the National Academy of Building Inspection Engineers (NABIE). If your inspector is a licensed Professional Engineer, he will be performing your inspection according to these standards.
Before you hire an inspector, who you will trust to tell you the condition of the house you intend to purchase, don’t forget to ask the most important question or all: What are your qualifications?