In Part One of this series, we learned why older homes should always be inspected before purchase. The inspector will determine the condition, remaining useful life, and the cost to repair or replace major components of a pre-owned home.
When purchasing an older home, the inspector will also verify that additions, repairs and renovations were done correctly, safely and according to code. This allows the buyer of an older home to decide whether to continue with a purchase offer, reduce or withdraw it.
Also in Part One, we learned new homes are inspected at key points during construction by inspectors from the city or county and by the builder, typically accompanied by the buyer. New homes are also built to the latest (and typically most stringent) local building codes. Typically, all products (and the home itself) are brand-new and under warranty.
Inspecting an older home before purchase (and making your purchase offer contingent upon a successful inspection) is always a smart idea. Some buyers may wish to hire a licensed inspector to review a newly built home, as well, for additional peace of mind — even with the inspections and warranties already in place.
If you do elect to hire a home inspector, it’s important to do your own due diligence to find a qualified inspector who is fully licensed (where required), bonded and insured. In addition, if you're buying new, your builder may ask to review the inspector's credentials and insurance. Your builder will also typically set an appointment for a third-party inspector and may be present at the time. Keep in mind that the builder still owns the home and is responsible for safety on the job site before closing, so these steps protect all parties.
How to Find a Home Inspector
So, how does one get started? National groups such as the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), the National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI) or the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (NACHI) offer “find an inspector” or “inspector search” features where you can search for inspectors in your area.
Once you have some names to work with, check out their professional experience and education. You can begin by asking friends and family for referrals, or get recommendations from your real estate agent. You can visit sites such as Yelp, Better Business Bureau, or Angie’s List to check consumer reviews of inspectors in your area.
Again, this is your big purchase, so it’s up to you to be comfortable with your decision. Most inspectors should have a bio on their company website listing their experience and qualifications, including any state licenses or certifications.
“It’s important to look for certified and licensed third-party inspectors if you are going to spend the money to have a third set of eyes review the project,” said Aaron Michael, president of TimberCreek Homes Inc., a custom homebuilder in Salt Lake City, Utah. “Utah does not currently have any formal licensing requirements for a home inspector. Because of this, it is important here to look for inspectors that are approved through nonprofit organizations like NAHI that require strict licensing and certification requirements be met to list a company or person as a home inspector through the organization.”
Are They Licensed?
If you are not sure if your state has licensing requirements, you can check the ASHI and NAHI websites for information on which states do and the appropriate state contact information to check to see if an inspector is licensed or has any complaints listed against him or her.
“State licensing requirements are the minimum necessary to practice home inspections,” said Frank Lesh, ASHI interim executive director. To help you find a qualified inspector, check to see if he or she belongs to a national organization or a state or local chapter.
These organizations require members to obtain a certain number of continuing education hours each year and offer certification programs that go above and beyond state requirements. “Good inspectors will join an organization that exceeds what’s necessary to get a license,” Lesh added.
The national associations also have Standards of Practice and a Code of Ethics that outline the scope of an inspection (what an inspector is and is not required to inspect) and the professional guidelines their members should follow during an inspection. The Code of Ethics defines the role of an inspector as an independent, third-party consultant and his or her interaction with clients.
“Ask what Standards of Practice the inspector uses,” said NAHI Executive Director Claude McGavic, who inspected homes for 18 years in Florida. “If he or she doesn’t have an answer, that’s a red flag.”
According to McGavic, other questions you should ask a prospective inspector include how many inspections he or she has completed as an indicator of experience and if the inspector will provide several references, such as the last three houses the person inspected, especially if he or she is relatively new on the job.
In addition, you should ask if the inspector carries liability insurance (in case an inspector accidentally causes damage to your property) and errors and omissions insurance, which covers the costs associated with an inspector missing a major problem. Some states require inspectors to have this insurance as part of licensing, so be sure to check your state’s requirements.
The Inspection Process
As part of the process of hiring an inspector, home buyers need to understand what an inspection includes — and what it doesn’t. The latter is perhaps more important.
“There are two classes of things that an inspector doesn’t do on an inspection: the ‘don’t look at’ and ‘can’t go there’ items,” McGavic said. The first, he explained, are items that are not included in a typical inspection, such as specialty structures not attached to the house. The other class includes those places that have physical or safety constraints or limitations, such as lack of attic access or a small crawlspace under the house. However, the inspector should inform the buyer why a specific space could not be inspected.
Inspectors also can’t tell you about things they can’t see, such as wires behind walls or pipes under the floor, and some may not inspect appliances.
“What we do is generally considered a visual inspection,” said Joseph P. Serino, who has been inspecting homes since 1993 as owner of JSerino Home Inspections in Avon-by-the-Sea, N.J. “Our hands are tied by what we can see and what is readily accessible.”
What Does a Typical Inspection Look Like?
It’s important to look for certified and licensed third-party inspectors if you are going to spend the money to have a third set of eyes review the project. — Aaron Michael, president, TimberCreek HomesA typical inspection should take from about two to three hours, depending on the size of the house. (Serino estimated about 2.5 hours for a 2,000-sq. ft. house.) According to McGavic, inspecting new construction is done the same way as inspecting older homes, but usually takes less time because there are fewer defects that have to be listed.
What Should Be Examined
Your inspector should examine the following items: the roof coverings and support structure; the attic and visible insulation; gutters; exterior walls; grading; windows; the garage; visible interior and exterior plumbing; electrical system; central heating and cooling systems; interior condition of walls, ceilings, doors and floors; and foundation and basement.
Your inspector should bring all of the necessary tools and equipment to thoroughly evaluate your house, e.g., a ladder and safety harness to get on the roof or access your attic, a camera for taking reference shots and a notebook or tablet for taking notes.
Should You Be Present?
Good inspectors won’t mind your being present for the inspection, as it allows them to point out items of concern as they go along and to go over the findings in greater detail at the end of the inspection. In the case of new construction, the builder will often be present, as well.
“The buyer should definitely attend the inspection,” Lesh said. “Being able to see, hear and interact with the inspector is extremely important. Remember, this is the most important transaction you’ll ever make. Why take a chance on missing something important?”
Be sure to ask what kind of report you’ll receive (and get it in writing): a narrative report or a checklist. A narrative report is best. If you have brought in a third-party inspector for a newly built home, your inspector will, in most cases, be expected to provide the builder with a copy of the report, so the builder can review it with you.
“You want an inspector who can back up an analysis with details in the report,” said Serino. But just as important for you, as the buyer, is to actually read the report and make sure you understand everything that is included. If you have questions, give your inspector a call.
“This is not just a business. We are serving people,” Serino said. “My approach is that when I inspect a home, I inspect it like it’s my own home.”