If you are planning on buying a house, any house, even a new house, I strongly recommend getting a home inspection. In my experience, it’s about the only way you can know (with some degree of certainty) what you are buying.
But how can you know which inspector is the right one for you? Georgia does not require home inspectors to be licensed in any way, so what should you be looking for?
Here is a list of topics you should think about when evaluating the qualifications of any home inspector:
Do they thoroughly examine the property, personally visiting all accessible areas, including the crawl space and the attic and the roof?
A quality home inspection takes at least a couple of hours. Anything less is a cursory examination and may miss major problems with the structure or systems. The inspection should be comprehensive and systematic, with a plan from beginning to end.
Do they provide a written report listing their findings?
A good inspection provides you with a written report showing all areas examined and their findings, along with specific comments on areas needing attention and the degree of severity. I prefer that color photos be included of problem areas.
What limits do they place on liability for their own negligence?
A professional home inspection is a visual examination of accessible areas, and carries no guarantees. Even so, the inspector should carry insurance for errors and omissions. No one is perfect, and if the inspector simply misses a serious and obvious defect, you should have some recourse.
What is their experience and training?
Look for an inspector with longtime experience in the building trades. Unfortunately, this is no guarantee of competency. I have dealt with structural engineers who were simply not suited to be home inspectors. And I have dealt with well-trained novice inspectors who did an excellent job of covering the house from one end to the other.
My personal gold standard for inspectors is certification by the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI.org) which requires adherence to high professional standards of practice. In addition, each member must abide by a Code of Ethics designed to foster integrity, honesty and objectivity in all dealings with the public. Finally, certification requires performance of at least 250 fee-paid inspections that comply with ASHI Standards of Practice.
Have they passed the National Home Inspector Examination?
Even though it is NOT required in Georgia, a passing score is required in 26 states. In addition, several trade organizations (including ASHI) require passing for full membership. The National Exam is a competence assessment tool for evaluating the inspector’s skill, knowledge, and experience.
What do their references say about them?
You have every right to ask for the names and contact numbers for the buyers of the last five homes they personally inspected. Contact each one, asking what shortcomings were noticed, and asking the buyer if they would recommend this inspector to a family member.
Do they encourage the home buyer to attend the inspection?
As a home buyer, you will learn a tremendous amount about the physical condition of your prospective home by attending the inspection and participating to the extent allowed. Ask all the questions you can think of, because now is the time to learn from a pro.
The concept of an independent fee-paid home inspection is relatively new. It represents a broader shift toward consumerism and away from the “buyer beware” mentality.
Spending a few extra minutes to find a truly qualified home inspector will likely pay off in fewer home repairs and system failures for years to come. Make sure you take advantage of this opportunity to know exactly what you are buying.
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Atlanta native John Adams is a veteran real estate broker, investor and author. He answers real estate questions every Sunday at 3 p.m. on WGKA (920 AM). He welcomes your comments and questions at Money99.com, where you will find an expanded video version of this column.