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How to Find a Qualified Home Inspector

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 business world.


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

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