Most people, understandably, start interviewing home inspectors by asking “How much do you charge?” While it’s important to know this information, it’s not the most important, and certainly not the only question you should ask in order to make an informed decision in choosing your Home Inspector. Keep in mind that home inspections are not a commodity. It’s not like going to the grocery store and buying a dozen Grade A – Large eggs or a pack of #2 pencils, where price is the primary differentiator between one supplier and another.
When you hire a Home Inspector, you are hiring a consultant to work on your behalf. Experience, qualifications, communication and interpersonal skills vary widely from inspector to inspector. Some inspectors specialize in volume and low price and may perform up to three or more cursory inspections in a day, then hand their clients a hand written checklist at the end. At the other end of the spectrum are inspectors who have a high level of expertise, are ruthlessly thorough and may spend many hours performing a single inspection and documenting their findings. These inspectors may never do more than one inspection per day. Obviously, you would expect the cost, and value, of inspections performed by the people at these opposite ends of the spectrum to be quite different.
As a consumer, you deserve to know what kind of inspection you will be receiving so that you can balance the cost of the inspection with your other priorities. We have prepared the following questions that we feel you should ask anyone that you are considering hiring as an inspector. In the course of your discussion, in addition to the direct responses, you should also assess intangibles such as: whether you comfortable with their communication style; whether they really listening for and addressing any concerns you may have; whether they established a rapport with you; etc.
Besides your license, what credentials and certifications do you have?
Look for evidence that the inspector considers him/herself a professional and actively pursues greater knowledge. Advanced certifications, such as Certified Master Inspector, Level-I, II or III Thermographer is an excellent indicator and may make your inspector’s comments more credible with builders and other professionals. Beware of meaningless logos which are often displayed en masse which don’t list any certifying organization or standard.
Do you perform home inspections full time or part time and how many paid inspections have you performed?
Home inspection requires a very broad knowledge, it’s difficult for an inspector to stay on top of their game doing it part-time and new inspectors face a long steep learning curve. In Texas, you can get an idea of how long someone has been licensed by their license number (the lower the number, the longer they have been around).
How many inspections do you perform in a day and how long do you expect to be present at the house you are inspecting for me?
If an inspector performs three or more inspections a day, don’t expect them to hang around and answer many questions for you or to include a lot of detail in your report. If you are the inspector’s only client that day, you can usually expect that they can spend the time necessary to properly inspect a complex house, answer questions and explain their findings in detail.
Are you comfortable with me attending throughout the inspection?
If the inspector is uncomfortable with, refuses or discourages you from attending the inspection, you should be uncomfortable hiring them. The best inspectors are excellent teachers and can teach you a great deal about the house, its systems and components through the course of the inspection. Yes, it will add time to the inspection, but if the inspector’s priority is to serve your needs first, they should be happy to have you there. Whether you plan to attend the entre inspection or only the end, find an inspector who welcomes your presence.
How long after the inspection should I expect to receive my report?
A report handed to you at the end of the inspection, simply isn’t going to have much detail. A thorough, detailed report can easily take several hours, sometimes as long as the actual on-site inspection, to prepare. An inspector who delivers a report at the end of the physical inspection has almost no time to perform research on non-mundane observations.
Do you give or receive payments or other consideration for referrals?
Avoid situations where inspectors give or receive kickbacks from agents, service companies, specialty inspectors, pay to be on preferred lists, etc. Ideally, the only money changing hands is directly from you to the inspector and any other professionals working on your behalf so that you are not paying loaded fees and there is no confusion as to whom the client is. Any referrals your receive either to or from your inspector should be entirely merit based and not driven by compensation or other consideration.
Do you sell, trade or convey your clients’ personal information to third parties for consideration, free services or marketing purposes?
Many inspectors offer long lists of “free” services, warranties, ancillary benefits etc. some of which can be pretty dubious. Most of this comes at a hidden cost – your personal information. In exchange for these freebies, you can expect to be called or contacted by solicitors for alarm monitoring and other high margin subscription services. All of that is OK if you want it and you are willing to pay the price for “free”, but it should never be done without your full awareness and explicit consent (read your service agreement carefully for hidden clauses allowing inspectors to trade your information). Ask yourself, are you shopping for an inspector to get these freebies or are you looking for the best, most competent inspector?
May I see a copy of your home inspection service agreement?
If they balk or don’t have one, that should be a red flag to you. When you review the agreement, you should expect to see some limitation of liability. However, you should look for an agreement that is fairly balanced and includes a satisfaction guarantee.
Would you send me a copy of an actual inspection report for a house similar to mine?
Don’t consider any inspection company that won’t send you a sample of an actual inspection report. When you get the report, look at it in detail. The inspection report is a tangible representation of the level of detail and thoroughness of the inspection. Many inspectors use commercially available reporting software. Often times these tools produce impressive looking reports but don’t really contain much useful information about the actual house that was inspected. When looking through the sample report, make sure that it contains meaningful information about the actual property that was inspected vs. a report that contains mostly generic boilerplate type information. You can find examples of actual HomeCert home inspection reports here.
Do you intend to walk on the roof? Under what circumstances do you not walk on the rooftop during an inspection?
Some inspector’s almost never walk on rooftops, while other do whenever it’s safe to do so. No inspector can see the same level of detail when looking at a roof through binoculars, with a pole mounted, camera or even a drone that can be observed by walking the roof surface.
Do you carry General Liability Insurance? Errors and Omissions?
If not, find out why. In many states, including Texas, E&O insurance is mandatory.
Have you ever had a complaint filed against you or been disciplined by your state licensing agency (in Texas that is the Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC)), inspection association or any bona fide consumer agency? If so, what was the outcome?
Check on their answer by looking at the Texas Real Estate Commission website. Their license database is searchable and any disciplinary actions will be shown. While you’re there, check on the agents/brokers too. Here’s the query for my license: TREC License Lookup.
How much will my inspection cost? What services are included in the basic fee and what services cost extra?
Now that you have the information that you need to be able to compare companies, it’s time to bring the cost component into the equation. Remember: Value is determined by the return on your investment, not the smallness of the investment.
Good hunting to you.