You are finally under contract on your dream house and you’re ready to schedule the home inspection. But what, exactly, is it? The inspection is an essential piece of the homebuying puzzle, as it gives you an objective view into the condition of your new “home sweet home.” It also can also be an intimidating and stressful step. Imagine if the home inspector uncovers some serious issues — or worse, they miss something that could be a dealbreaker. Selecting a competent and knowledgeable home inspector can save you heartbreak and potentially a lot of money. It also can provide you with some much-needed peace of mind.
Many home contracts are contingent on the results of the inspection, so finding an inspector you can trust is vital. Approximately 1 in 20 contracts are canceled, with the leading cause being the home inspection.
With this in mind, we’ve scoured resources for all the ins and outs of home inspections to create this expert guide to help you learn how to find a good home inspector. We’ve also spoken with top real estate agent Paula Burlison from Las Vegas, Nevada, and a northern Illinois home inspector to help lay out the steps you should take to find a reputable professional, what information you should look for, and which questions you should make sure to ask.
What is a home inspector?
A home inspector is a trained professional who assesses the condition of a property. They observe and report on heating and cooling systems, plumbing, electrical, water and sewage, and roofing. They also check for evidence of insect, water, or fire damage to the property.
“[A home inspection] gives a pretty good, comprehensive snapshot of the [property] condition,” says Mike Follman, of Home Inspectors & More, Inc. in McHenry, Illinois. Mike has seven years of home inspecting experience and over 20 years of residential and commercial contractor expertise. He says each property is unique, noting that issues can range from something minor like chipped paint or a loose toilet, to more serious problems like foundation damage. It is the inspector’s job to observe and report on the issues they find, but they don’t typically suggest fixes or estimate the cost of repairs.
Home inspectors also look at structural soundness, mechanical function, safety, and environmental issues (think lead-based paint or asbestos). Burlison, who has over a decade of real estate expertise and nearly 500 transactions, stresses that the inspection is limited to what you can see. So, for example, if a roof is covered in snow, the inspector likely won’t be able to identify roof damage.
Home inspectors can earn credentials from reputable organizations such as the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), as well as from the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI).
Remember, your home inspection is only as reliable as the inspector you hire! “[The home inspection] offers you peace of mind at a low cost … [the inspection also] gives you the right to be able to renegotiate repairs with the seller before closing,” Burlison says.
Selecting the right inspector
Start your search early
Begin looking for your home inspector before you start shopping for your new dream property. You want to make sure you have enough time to properly vet the inspector and allowing yourself extra time can help take some of stress and rush out of the equation.
There are many factors that go into selecting a trustworthy home inspector. Burlison suggests a good first place to start is by looking for referrals. “I think that referrals are really sound. I will always give [my clients] three different inspectors that my [past] clients have used and had good experiences with,” she says.
Once you get some names, be sure to do your own research as well. Consult online reviews on Yelp, HomeAdvisor, Angi, and Google, and have conversations with the inspectors to get a sense of their experience and background. While most agents are looking out for your best interest, doing your own research and selecting your inspector will give you the assurance they are working independently and haven’t been influenced by the agent or other party to the transaction.
It’s also a good idea to reach out to friends and family members who recently moved and ask them for recommendations, too.
Contact professional organizations including ASHI, NABIE and InterNACHI for recommendations. Each of these organizations offer different certifications and requirements. Plus consider that many states require inspectors to pass a licensing exam.
Research the company
Select an inspection company that only does home inspections. A company that also offers repairs and renovations may be looking to boost business by adding unnecessary issues to the inspection report. You can also check the company standing with the Better Business Bureau. You can also check out reviews, resolved complaints, and ratings.
The best deal isn’t necessarily the best choice
The average home inspection costs around $400, but Burlison notes that it’s imperative not to shop for a bargain. “You never want to choose an inspector based on price,” she continues, “Every time [I’ve seen someone shop based on price] it turns out bad for the buyer.” As the old saying goes, you get what you pay for (at least in most instances). Prices for home inspections can vary based on your location and the size of the property being inspected, so be prepared for some variance in price and compare rates to determine what’s fair.
Compare inspection reports
After each home inspection, the inspector creates a home inspection report, which is typically at least a 30-page document. The inspector writes the report after a thorough evaluation of the property condition. It’s helpful to compare past reports from various inspectors to get an idea about the level of detail they provide and how they present their findings. A detailed report includes photos and descriptions of defects and explains why they matter. It also may include maintenance suggestions.
Get the details
This is a lot of information to keep track of, so having a list of questions handy will help ensure you cover all your bases. To learn more about an inspector’s experience and qualifications, be sure to ask about:
- Certifications and credentials they hold (ASHI, InterNACHI)
- Current licensing in your state
- Their experience prior to becoming an inspector
- How long they’ve been a home inspector
- If they’re insured and bonded
- What the inspection covers
- What the inspection doesn’t cover
- How long the inspection takes
- Are they a full-time home inspector?
- Examples of past reports
- Specialty inspections that are specific to your property or area (air quality, sewer scoping, additional inspections on other structures on the property)
What to expect on inspection day
Inspection day is finally here, but what can you — as the buyer — really expect from the day? You will want to feel prepared for the inspection. Be aware of what the inspector should be looking for (more on this below!). Bring a pen and paper along with you to take notes on what the inspector finds, and be sure to allow the inspector to do their job. If you feel they aren’t being thorough enough, say something.
Burlison recommends that her buyers be present at the inspection. “It’s valuable to be able to go through the inspection with the inspector one-on-one and look at the items [the inspector] feels needs care or maintenance,” she explains.
Attending the inspection can also take some mystery out of the inspection report because you are better able to understand what items the report is referring to. If you’re unable to go to the inspection, your agent can attend on your behalf to observe any notable findings that may be used as leverage during negotiations.
The seller and the listing agent generally won’t be present during the inspection. It’s also a good idea not to have friends and family present, or other professionals (like a general contractor) so you can allow the inspector to do their job with minimal interference.
Things the inspector should check during your home inspection include:
- Home exterior
- Roof (if visible; if it’s covered in snow the inspector cannot inspect it)
- Crawl space or basement
- Attic space
- Interior condition
- Pest inspection
- Water/fire/mold inspection
- Structural components
Keep in mind that elements that can’t easily be inspected visually might not be checked. For example, the inspector won’t be tearing open walls or inspecting potential issues that they cannot see.
Burlison tells her clients to expect the inspection to take roughly one hour for every 1,000 square feet. This is a rough guide to know how long it will take, and often older homes may take longer as they tend to have more wear and tear. Additionally, smaller homes may take less time to inspect, and the home’s layout may also affect the length of the inspection.
Once the inspection is complete, you should expect to receive the inspection report within a few days. When you get the report, you and your agent can review it and decide if renegotiations are necessary.
Don’t skip the big stuff
The inspection is a crucial step in your homebuying journey so it’s important that you understand how to find a good home inspector with experience, credibility, and an excellent reputation. After all, buying a home is a huge investment so you want to put it in the hands of someone you can trust.
Follman recounts a specific home that stands out for him. “I had one that had an open crawl space. It was a very tiny space under the 60-year-old house, but I was able to squeeze in to take a look. The entire bottom of the house was completely wet and had been [for some time].” He says he then noticed the carpenter ants. Essentially, the beams had such extreme damage that they were crumbling, and they compromised the home’s structural integrity. The buyer ultimately decided the home wasn’t for them and moved on to a different property.
A reliable home inspector can save you from a nightmare of hidden damage and costly repairs, give you peace of mind that the property you’re purchasing is in acceptable condition, and can educate you on potential issues.
With a solid home inspection, hopefully, the only thing you’ll need to worry about is planning your housewarming party!