A scathing NBC Dateline news story on incompetence and fraud in home
inspections has again raised eyebrows among homebuyers and raised the hackles
of home inspectors. The message for homebuyers, when it comes to hiring a
home inspector, is Buyer Beware. It's a familiar theme: consumers as victims
for unscrupulous, deceptive operators. For the home inspection and real
estate industries, unfortunately, "one bad apple spoils the bunch"-- just a
few horror stories are enough to give the whole industry a black eye.
The story highlighted what is probably the worst case scenario: real estate
agents and home inspectors working in cahoots with each other to hide defects
from home buyers. But the problem for most consumers is not just avoiding
fraudulent operators, it's making sure whoever they hire has enough
experience and knowledge to do a good job. It's not exactly easy because the
home inspection industry, as NBC pointed out, is a largely unregulated one.
Most states don't require home inspectors to be licensed. Although licensing
doesn't guarantee competence, it's a basic credential that should be
available for consumers as a baseline to judge an inspector's background.
So where does that leave the homebuyer? How do you select a qualified home
inspector? First of all, you should choose the inspector yourself, rather
than let the real estate agent recommend one. Although agents are capable of
making honest and well-intentioned referrals, this is one relationship with
the potential for conflicts of interest.
Ask if the company belongs to the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI).
In addition, ask for a sample inspection report and if it complies with ASHI
standards. Many companies also belong to statewide home inspection industry
associations. As a trade association, ASHI sets certain standards of
practice, including what constitutes a thorough inspection, and enforces
those standards along with a code of ethics for its members. It also
sponsors continuing education.
Although ASHI membership is a positive credential, membership alone does not
make a good inspector. And don't necessarily turn a non-member away if they
come highly recommended. Many worthy inspectors have yet to discover the
cost-benefits of trade guild membership. It's a common trait in the small
Here are other questions to ask
How many years have you been in business? (The more the better.) This is
critical. Nothing beats experience in the field. It means the inspector has
pleased enough customers to stay in business, and has encountered and dealt
with a variety of home types and conditions.
Can you give me at least three customer references? Don't just ask for
references, call the persons listed and ask them very pointed questions. How
picky is the inspector? Was he or she your advocate during the home sale
process, or did you get the feeling the inspector wasn't interested in
rocking the boat?
Do you carry errors and omissions and general liability insurance?
Ask the Better Business Bureau if there is a complaint record on the
individual or company name.
Do not hire a company that either performs repairs or refers clients
to repair companies. This is a clear conflict of interest.
By Cliff McCreedy