• 5 Key Questions to Ask Your Home Inspector

    Brandon Cornett

    By Brandon Cornett, Editor
    © 2013 All rights reserved

    The home inspection is an important part of your real estate process. This is when you bring in a professional inspector to examine the house from top to bottom. It only costs a few hundred dollars, which is a small price to pay for the peace of mind you get from of it.

    Elsewhere on this website, I've described the inspection process in detail. We even have a helpful video that explains the process. In this lesson, we will focus on the home inspector in particular. Here's a list of questions you should ask a home inspector before hiring him. 

    1. What do you look for during the inspection?

    Some states have requirements as to what the home inspector must look for, while other states do not. The list of inspection items may also be determined by a professional organization, such as the American Society of Home Inspectors.

    This is an important question to ask your inspector. You need to find out what he is going to look at during the inspection, and what we won't look at. You can also ask for a sample checklist. The checklist will show you all the items to be examined during the process.

    You should look up the requirements for your state (if there are any) to make sure the checklist covers all of the required areas.

    At a minimum, the inspector should be looking at these items:

    • The roof
    • The foundation and other supporting structures
    • The electrical system (circuit breakers, fuses, lights)
    • The plumbing system (sinks, toilets, pipes)
    • The heating / cooling system

    For the above items, the home inspector is looking for obvious signs of damage or disrepair. He is also looking for certain safety factors, such as an overloaded circuit breaker or a backyard deck with no railings. If you have any particular areas of concern, such as a water stain you saw in the basement, ask if it's going to be part of the inspection.

    Note: There are also certain things the inspector won't examine. They generally don't check for termites -- you would need a separate / specialized inspection for these pests. They normally don't inspect swimming pools or septic systems either. Again, you might need to hire a specialized service for these things.

    2. How long have you been inspecting homes in this area?

    It's important to ask a home inspector this question, because different parts of the country have different inspection requirements. For example, some states have basements while others do not. Some areas have problems with wood-destroying insects, while others do not. Building codes also vary from one city to the next.

    You want to find a home inspector who has worked in your local area for some time. He will be more familiar with local conditions and problem areas. For example, he will know more about the average life expectancy of roofing materials in the local area (given the weather conditions). General experience is fine. But local experience is much better.

    3. What certifications do you have?

    Inspections are like any other home-based business. It has its fair share of frauds and phonies. Do a Google search for "home inspector scams" and you'll see what I mean. You can protect yourself from this in several ways. One way is to make sure your chosen inspector is fully licensed and certified, in accordance with your state's requirements.

    You can find a state-by-state list of licensing requirements on the American Society of Home Inspectors website:

    http://www.ashi.org/customers/state.asp

    You can also research a home inspector through the Better Business Bureau website, and simply by using Google. Put on your "Internet detective" hat and see what you can find. You don't want to hire a phony to inspect one of the largest investments you'll ever make. So ask plenty of questions about your home inspector's qualifications and certifications. If he seems annoyed by your questions, you should find someone else to do the inspection. A true professional will be happy to share his credentials.

    4. How much will the inspection cost?

    On average, home inspections cost between $400 and $600. The cost may also vary based on the size of the house. Some inspectors have their prices listed on their websites. You should still ask questions about pricing though, even if they're listed on the site. You don't want to be surprised by an overpriced inspection after it's been completed.

    The cost of a home inspection is usually driven by three factors. These are (A) the area where you live, (B) the size of the home, and (C) the exact services to be performed. Some charge a flat rate, while others have a pricing scale based on the square footage. This is another good question to ask a home inspector.

    Note: When you're researching the average cost of a home inspection in your area, try to find unbiased sources. The website of a professional organization is not an unbiased source. Anecdotal pricing information is also helpful. You can find out how much people are paying in your area by using a website like www.city-data.com.

    Some inspectors perform collateral duties on top of the regular inspection. For example, they might check for termites and other pests. This would drive up the cost, but it would also prevent you from hiring a specialized service to check those other areas. So in the long run, you might actually save money in this manner. Just make sure he is properly trained to check those other areas. Ask questions about this in advance, so you'll know exactly what you get for the money.

    Keep in mind that cost does not always equal quality. A lousy home inspector might charge more than his talented counterparts, or vice versa. This is another reason you should research the person's background and licensing. Get references from people you know and trust.

    5. What Type of Report Do You Provide, and When?

    The home inspector should give you a copy of his report. This usually happens onsite, as soon as he completes the inspection. Some inspectors may write up the report later on, and then send you a copy.

    In my opinion, it's better to have the report completed on the spot. This allows you to ask questions about any discrepancies the inspector found, while he's still in the house. He can actually show you the problems he found.

    A good inspector will sit down with you and go over each discrepancy, one by one. If he didn't find any major problems, this might not take more than five minutes. But if he found a variety of problems, it could take 20 minutes or more to go over the report.

    In addition to listing the discrepancies themselves, the inspector might tell you what it would take to correct them. This will help you determine the potential costs you might incur, if the seller refuses to make any repairs. This is obviously something you want to know. Yes, the roof is damaged in one area. But how much will it cost to fix it?

    Related article: 21 Common Questions About Home Inspections

    This article explains some of the questions you should ask a home inspector, before hiring one to perform your inspection. If you would like to learn more about this subject, you can use the search tool at the top of this page. There are hundreds of home-buying articles on this website, so you're bound to find what you need.

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