Shopping for a home? Don’t wait until you have an accepted offer to shop for a home inspector. You want to allow time to interview several candidates so that you can be sure to hire an experienced professional.
After all, a home inspection is your one opportunity to get a clear-eyed assessment about the true condition of something that, for many, is the most expensive purchase of a lifetime. Follow our advice for how to find good candidates and what to look for in an inspector.
Beware the Real Estate Agent's Referral
Your real estate agent might offer to give you some home inspectors’ names. He may be perfectly well-meaning—or not—but the references present a conflict of interest.
A real estate agent wants to close the deal, and that incentive may be at odds with that of the inspector, who gets paid for his report. If the report raises too many issues, or serious ones, it can be used to negotiate a lower price or even scuttle the deal. An inspector who has been referred by your agent may feel obligated to go easy on the inspection.
“Unless you deeply trust your agent, find your own inspector,” says Kevin Brasler, executive editor of Consumers’ Checkbook, an independent nonprofit advocacy group that rates local services, and investigated home inspection services in 2018.
Identify Qualified and Trusted Candidates
To find a reputable inspector, first ask friends who have recently purchased a home whether they recommend the person they used. You can also find referrals through local online communities such as NextDoor or Patch, where members sometimes post their experiences. A crowdsourced directory such as Yelp, and home services sites such as Angie’s List and HomeAdvisor, may also be helpful.
If you live in one of the seven metropolitan areas covered by Consumers’ Checkbook, you can check the organization’s ratings of local home inspectors. It covers Boston, Chicago, the Delaware Valley (Pa.), Puget Sound (Wash.), the San Francisco Bay Area, the Twin Cities (Minn.), and Washington, D.C.
Other resources to find inspectors include professional organizations such as the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI), and the National Academy of Building Inspection Engineers, which certifies professional engineers and architects who perform home inspections. Some state organizations, such as the California Real Estate Inspection Association, also have a database of inspectors. Go to each group’s website to find details about local member inspectors’ experience and professional certifications, and the services they provide.
Once you’ve found a few candidates, search online to see whether there have been any complaints about them. Try doing a web search with the name of the company and such terms as “complaints” and “reviews.” Your local Better Business Bureau chapter may also may have information on the home inspector you’re considering.
Favor Credentials, but Know Their Limits
Hiring someone who’s certified by a professional organization can give you a bit more assurance that the inspector is knowledgeable.
Among the requirements for certification from ASHI, for instance, candidates must pass an in-person National Home Inspector Examination and document that they’ve done at least 250 paid home inspections. InterNACHI’s certification requirements include having candidates pass its Online Inspector Examination and submit four mock or simulated inspection reports to the organization.
Thirty-four states require inspectors to pass a written National Home Inspector Examination; find out here whether your state offers certification. If your state requires licensing for home inspectors, ask to see proof of licensing from the inspectors you’re considering hiring.
Keep in mind, though, that certification and licensing don’t ensure a great inspection. In its 2018 undercover investigation, Consumers’ Checkbook hired 12 home inspectors—all state-licensed and certified by a professional group—to inspect a three-bedroom house with 28 known problems. None of the inspectors found all the problems, which included a leak under the kitchen sink, bad roof damage, and obvious signs of rodent infestation.
“By all accounts, the national exam is a rigorous test, and both professional groups do a pretty good job of ensuring their certified inspectors are knowledgeable,” Brasler says. “But being knowledgeable doesn’t mean the inspector is going to be diligent or conscientious, and that he won’t rush through the inspection.”
In the Consumers’ Checkbook investigation, he noted, one inspector rushed through the home in 1½ hours, compared with the 2 to 4 hours most inspectors take.
Compare Home Inspection Reports
The best way to determine how thorough an inspector will be—and how well he will communicate the problems he finds—is to ask for a sample copy of an inspection he has done on a home like the one you’re considering buying, Brasler says. “The sample report will show how much work they’re going to do,” he says.
After comparing reports from several inspectors, you’ll begin to see which ones are detailed in their observations and which are just filling their reports with generic information such as the importance of sealing a wood deck or caulking around windows to improve energy efficiency.
In Consumer Reports’ examination of reports from home inspectors across the country, we found that the typical report consists of a few dozen pages covering findings on all the major systems in the house, and includes photographs and descriptions of documented problems and maintenance suggestions. Some inspectors now post the reports online with videos.
Consider Training and Experience
In addition to professional certifications, look for someone who has been in the field inspecting homes for at least several years. He’s more likely to have seen a variety of home types and a broad range of home issues.
“Assuming he does four inspections a week over a five-year period, that’s over 1,000 inspections,” says Richard Haber, a home inspector and licensed architect based in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.
Especially if the home is older, look for an inspector with extra training or credentials, such as an architect’s or home engineer’s license. And be prepared to pay more. Edward Robinson, a professional engineer and president of Professional Engineering Inspections in Houston, estimates that the $600 to $800 he charges to inspect a typical three-bedroom home is about double what someone in the Houston area would pay for a non-engineer’s inspection.
Ask What You Get for the Price
Inspectors without specialized credentials typically charge around $300 to $1,000, depending on the home’s location and size, the inspector’s experience, and the scope of the inspection itself.
Some inspectors will add free services not covered by a basic inspection, such as using a drone to view the roof or placing an infrared camera on walls, ceilings, and floors to measure temperature differences that suggest the presence of damaging moisture. Others will charge extra for those services. Still others will refer you to an outside expert to do that work.
Be aware that you may have to pay extra for specialized tests that aren’t covered by the initial home inspection. Common risks that may need more testing include termites, radon, and mold.