Finding a home inspector is not really a problem anymore. Economic and licensing environments during the 20 years preceding the 2008 downturn allowed for a large increase in the population of inspectors in most markets. Current economic conditions have not burned through the less talented and part time practitioners yet. The real struggle for a concerned agent or buyer is how to locate and hire a truly competent inspector. Even in mandatory licensing states, agents are learning that simply being licensed does not guarantee an inspector’s quality. So what is an agent or buyer to do?
You want your client to be protected and you want good service. Here are eight considerations in selecting a home inspector.
Understand the home inspection service you are buying.
According to most definitions, a home inspection is a visual evaluation of the conditions present and apparent at the time of the inspection. Therefore it is not predictive, technically exhaustive, warranted or guaranteed. A good inspector provides information regarding the conditions of the home so the buyer has a better understanding of the property they are purchasing. Using practical insight and skills developed from professional training and field experience, a good inspector is able to deliver information to buyers within proper context. For example, any home inspector can see a sheet rock crack, but not every inspector can correctly communicate the significance of the findings and relate that information in a useful way without unnecessarily scaring the client.
Buyer’s and agents must also understand that home inspectors are not clairvoyants. While a good inspector can find the majority of issues in a home, no home inspector can every find everything. Additionally, a home inspector cannot predict everything that will fail in the next year. A home inspector is not expected to move the seller’s property in an occupied home. Even in a vacant home there are obscured areas in the attic, mechanical areas and plumbing access panels. A home inspector is also not expected to disassemble equipment to evaluate internal operations.
Evaluate a home inspector’s routine.
Every home is different. But an accomplished, thorough and knowledgeable inspector always approaches inspections (regardless of shape, size or age) with the same organized approach. Good inspectors conduct every inspection with a set routine in order to ensure consistency, organization and thoroughness of inspections and reports. Inspectors that are not consistent in their routine or allow themselves to be distracted from their approach can easily lose track of where they have been and miss something. This sounds like a minor issue, but it is critical and separates professionals from non-professionals.
Evaluate a home inspector’s technical competence.
A home inspector is not an expert. He is a “generalist”. Competent inspectors require a vast knowledge of systems and structures. Good inspectors constantly seek and absorb knowledge, staying current with current systems, modes of function, and methods of installation. Many home inspectors struggle with this and their egos can get them in trouble. A good inspector knows that he possesses a fraction of the electrical knowledge of a master electrician. An inspector must be knowledgeable about foundations, soils and site preparation, electrical, plumbing, heat & air, ventilation, structure and any appliance in a house, just to name the most obvious areas.
No one can know it all, so be very wary of the “know-it-all” personality type.
Ask about your potential home inspector’s experience.
Many agents try to judge experience based on license numbers or date or years in business. While years in business can provide a clue, it does not insure quality. If you want to judge experience, ask how many homes the inspector has evaluated. If the home inspector is newer, ask what he/she did before becoming an inspector. You may sometimes discover that the “newer” inspector has more practical experience than the one who has an older license number. Be careful before you employ a “weekend warriors”. The largest concern with low volume inspectors is what pilots call “lack of currency”. To become truly experienced you must not only do a bunch of inspections, but you must do them often enough to truly set and build real world relevant experience. Do you want to fly with a pilot that has not flown in the last three months? Do you want to trust your home to an inspector whom has been at it 15 years, but does 35 per year or the guy at it 8 years who does 300 per year?
Demand good people skills from your home inspector.
Bad home inspector bedside manner has caused many a deal to go south. If you boil it down, home inspectors are in the communication business. How you communicate what you find is always as important to what you find. There are enough calm, competent diplomats in the profession that there is no reason to settle for an arrogant, blustery inspector. A top home inspector will use clear language, very little jargon, and explain the situation calmly, offering few qualifications. He or she will also answer follow-up calls.
A customer-service-oriented inspector will welcome clients to attend their inspection. Life is too short to deal with any home inspector who has such bad people skills that you spend more time trying to weed through his language than dealing with his findings.
Expect your home inspector to have good writing skills.
A good home inspector realizes that a well written report is all that is left when the inspection itself is over. It needs to accurately reflect the issues noted at the time of the inspection. It is also, at a real level, a marketing tool. It represents the quality of the company. For some inspectors, it proves that regardless of numbers,
they are still amateurs. Good reports are generally long enough to clearly explain the issues, without burying them. In today’s marketplace, a good report is computer-generated, includes color digital pictures, and is in your hand no later than 24 hours after the event. You should be able to easily locate repair items and other concerns within the structure of the report and there should be no significant items appearing in the report that are not discussed on site at the time of the inspection. Realistically, some limitations and exclusion language is acceptable; however, it should not be excessive.
Demand that the home inspector have E&O insurance.
Most agents have Errors and Omissions (E&O) insurance. Many inspectors do not. The hard truth is that if the client feels wronged and discovers that the inspector has no insurance, the agent is often the next target. Thus, an agent who works with uninsured inspectors is in effect insuring uninsured inspectors. Many inspectors still think that it is too expensive to carry E&O. The average full-time inspector in the United States does about 300 inspections per year, generating $75,000 in fees. An E&O policy can be purchased for $1,300. Affording insurance is a matter of priorities and management, not expense.
Do not allow home inspector price to become the deciding factor.
As a rule, new inspectors try to penetrate the market by undercutting those that have been around longer. Make sure that you make a decision based on factors that matter in the long term: experience, communications skills, service and quality of the inspection. Do not forget that $50 or $100 saved on an inspector can cost thousands of dollars in repair fees.
In the end, a great inspector is not solely decided by technical expertise. Business and communication skills are equally as important to providing superior customer service. Great inspectors will be around for you when you need them-for years to come. They stand behind their work, communicate clearly and follow-up with pressing client questions. A great inspector is an asset to both you and your clients, and is an essential member of every real estate agent’s extended professional team.