How to Find a Qualified Inspector and What They Should Look For
Increasingly, home inspectors have joined the ranks of agents and real estate lawyers as essential members of a homebuyer’s team. After all, when you’re about to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a house, it’s a good idea to spend a couple hundred more for an informed opinion on its condition. But how do you find a qualified one, and what will they tell you about the house you’re about to buy?
First off, you need to be aware of what a home inspector won’t or can’t do. Home inspection is an unregulated industry so, unlike lawyers or accountants, you’d don’t need any special training (or even experience) to start up a home inspection company. That said, there are organizations like the American Society of Home Inspectors and the Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors that set minimum standards for registered members. Of course for many people, nothing beats strong recommendation from a friend or family member.
You also need to recognize that a home inspection is largely a superficial look. An inspector will not do any “invasive” checking: They won’t remove trim or flooring to inspect the conditions behind it. (Though some inspectors now use infrared imaging to “see” problems, such as water leaks, hidden behind walls and ceilings.)
Finally, when you read the fine print in the contract you’ll learn that home inspectors do not offer any sort of warranty on their work. If the roof collapses a month after you move in they’ll deny any liability. An inspection is really about making an informed decision before you buy.
Areas the inspector must check
Ideally, you should be there for the home inspection so the inspector can show you any areas of concern first-hand. Finally, if possible, try to schedule the inspection on a clear day: You don’t want darkness or driving rain limiting what you can see during the exterior inspection. And note that snow build-up can bury a lot of potential foundation and landscaping problems.
At the end of the inspection you’ll be given a detailed binder outlining the specific areas of concern. Here are the main areas it should cover:
A quality inspector will verify that all the electrical outlets are grounded, inspect the fuse box or circuit breaker, and make you aware of any potential electrical concerns (for example, the presence of live knob and tube or aluminum wiring).
A home inspector will test the plumbing for sufficient water pressure and make sure everything drains properly. Where plumbing is exposed, they’ll let you know the type (copper, galvanized, etc.) and state of it. Most home inspections do not include a potability test. (In the case of well water, mortgage lenders typically require a water test as a condition of approval.)
•Heating and air conditioning
An inspector will assess the type (forced air, radiators, etc.), age, and condition of your heating system (and air conditioning, if applicable) and let you know their typical expected lifespan.
Unless there’s an easily accessible flat area, an inspector will generally not climb onto a roof. Typically, they’ll use a pair of binoculars to inspect the shingles, chimney, venting, and eavestrough from the ground. If there’s an interior access hatch, they’ll also peak into the attic to check out the insulation and venting.
On an exterior walkaround the inspector will check the foundation for stability and signs of water penetration, the condition of the bricks or siding, and make sure that downspouts and grading carry rainfall away from the house. They should also check for the condition and airtightness of windows and exterior doors.