Given the long list of expenses that comes with buying a home, it’s tempting to seek out savings wherever you can find them.
Unfortunately, about 1.4 million homebuyers in 2014 decided to shave a few hundred dollars off their tabs by skipping the home inspection – a “pennywise but pound foolish” solution that left some of them stranded at the bottom of a money pit.
Even if a home inspection isn’t required by your mortgage lender, foregoing this step – or performing a DIY inspection – is a very risky move.
Without an inspection, you could easily overpay for a house in need of expensive repairs. In addition, the structure might pose serious health risks, safety risks or building code violations, all problems that could swiftly suck your wallet dry.
Also, a home inspection report that uncovers defects can give you the leverage to negotiate a better price or to back out of the deal without losing your deposit.
Depending on the size and complexity of the home, an inspection costs $300 to $600. This may seem like a lot to spend on a home you may not buy, but given the potential consequences of buying without an inspection, it’s a small price to pay.
5 Tips to Help You Hire the Best
Not everyone calling themselves a home inspector is qualified – or even competent. To ensure that you hire only a qualified and unbiased professional, follow these 5 tips:
Look for a Certified Professional
Start your search by visiting the websites of trade organizations such as the American Society of Home Inspectors or the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors to locate professionals in your area.
It’s also a good idea to cross-check these referrals with reviews from Google, Yelp and Angie’s List.
Membership in one of these associations means the inspector has undergone a testing and certification process, adheres to professional standards and ethics, and takes continuing education courses.
Although certification doesn’t guarantee that the inspector will be a bona fide pro, you should probably take a “hard pass” on anyone who isn’t certified. The vast majority of people who are serious about this business will be certified.
Find Someone Who Can Be Unbiased
Because inspections are often an afterthought, it’s common for buyers to simply ask their realtors for referrals. In theory (and usually in practice), there’s nothing wrong with this.
However, this could create a conflict of interest. An inspector who relies on a realtor for new business might feel pressured into overlooking minor problems in the interest of helping the realtor close the deal.
For reasons that include liability and reputation, an inspector is unlikely to “overlook” major defects (such as a furnace with six months to live), but they might “forget” to mention some minor issues – issues that could have given you negotiating leverage or helped you create a long-term repair and maintenance budget.
Getting referrals from friends and family, or through the websites of trade associations, will increase the odds that your inspector has no “skin in the game” – aside from collecting his or her fee.
Ask about Qualifications
As a rule, do not consider a candidate who doesn’t have a background in the building trades – or who isn’t knowledgeable about the HVAC, plumbing, electrical and other infrastructure elements critical to a home’s health and functionality.
Former tradesmen and general contractors are often your best bets.
Just be sure to inquire about each candidate’s background and experience. Ask how many houses the person has inspected and request proof that the inspector is licensed and certified.
Make sure the inspector has general liability insurance that covers injury and any property damage that might be caused during an inspection. The inspector should also carry errors and omission insurance that pays for any losses incurred as a result of failing to report serious issues.
Learn What the Inspection Does and Does Not Include
The average home inspection is a “visual only” affair. The inspector will spend three to four hours scanning for visual clues that something is amiss.
What he or she will not do is dismantle the water pump to check for hidden defects or tear off pieces of drywall to look for mold.
Depending on the home’s age and location, you may have good reason to worry about termites, mold or radon, but inspecting for these problems will probably cost you more.
Ask, upfront, if the inspection includes a search for such problems, and if not, inquire whether the inspector can include those items and how much extra they will cost.
If the inspector isn’t qualified to (say) look for any of these issueshazardous mold, you’ll need to hire a specialist to tackle that issue, and obviously, that will increase your costs.
Attend the Inspection Yourself.
A good home inspector will be happy to have you tag along, and will talk you through every issue as it’s investigated.
As long as you’re physically fit enough to climb onto roofs and crawl through basements, you should plan to be present during the inspection to ensure that nothing is overlooked and to ask questions.
If the inspector refuses to let you come along, find someone else for the job.
Also, because time is usually of the essence when it comes to the inspection report, make sure the inspector agrees to deliver it within a reasonable timeframe – 24 hours is common.
Can You Be Your Own Home Inspector?
Yes, but it’s probably a bad idea.
For one thing, you probably lack the qualifications and experience needed to locate every potential defect.
For another, it will be nearly impossible for you to objectively evaluate the property because you have an emotional, as well as a financial, stake, in the outcome.
A neutral third party won’t care how pretty the hardwood floors are, or fall in love with that (possibly illegal) “mother-in-law cottage.” But these are precisely the things that can blind a DIY inspector to potentially costly defects.