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Hiring a home inspector before you purchase a home is a wise move, but you may not always be able to rely on trusted references. Here are some tips for identifying a trustworthy inspector.
Why Hire a Home Inspector?
A home inspection is an optional step in the homebuying process intended to protect the buyer against hidden structural or mechanical concerns with a house or condominium. An inspection can uncover problems that aren't noticeable on a simple walk-through of the home and which the seller has not disclosed—either intentionally or because they are unaware of them.
Examples of problems an inspection might uncover include mold inside the walls, pest infestation, and failing plumbing, heating, or electrical systems. And, of course, a home inspection may not turn up any problems at all.
Because a home inspection can reveal the need for costly repairs, it's common for home-purchase contracts to permit the buyer to back out based on the results of the inspection. Issues disclosed in an inspection may also be grounds for negotiating a lower sale price or credits from the seller.
Choosing the Right Home Inspector
Because a home inspection protects you, the buyer, you'll pay for the home inspection. You have the right to hire any inspector you choose, and here are some guidelines for doing so:
Think Twice About Agent Referrals
It's common for real estate agents to recommend home inspectors, but it's not necessarily to your advantage to take that advice at face value. Agents are naturally interested in inspectors who are available on short notice and can help close a deal quickly. While you may also be keen to finalize a sale, sourcing an inspector who prioritizes thoroughness over speed could be to your benefit, particularly if you're buying an older home. The agent's recommendations can be in the mix, but consider vetting a few others as well.
Find Your Own Candidates
To look for an inspector yourself, enter your ZIP code into the websites for industry trade groups American Society of Home Inspectors and International Association of Certified Home Inspectors to get accredited inspectors in your area. If you're subscribed to Angi (formerly Angie's List), you'll find many inspectors there as well, along with customer reviews.
Check With the Better Business Bureau
Once you have a short list of choices, run their names through the Better Business Bureau directory to check for complaints lodged against them. This isn't exactly comprehensive, but it only takes a few minutes, and it could help you rule out problem candidates.
Once you've got your list of finalists, get in touch and take the following steps:
- Ask for sample reports. Reviewing an inspection report can give you an idea of how thoroughly the inspector will delve into a property. Ideally, you'll get a report for a property similar in age and attributes (deck, fireplace, roof type and the like) to the one you hope to buy.
- Ask about additional tests they recommend. There can be a fine line between upselling and necessary care, but there are many cases where testing can be advisable (and worth the extra cost they entail), such as:
- Home-specific issues: Based on the age and attributes of the house, specific tests may be advisable. An older home is more likely to have pest infestation or chimney problems than a newer one. Properties that have been vacant a while may be likelier to have hidden mold and certain roof or deck designs and materials, and they may warrant closer inspection.
- Issues based on climate and geology: Even if you're an experienced homeowner, if you're moving to a new region of the country, there may be local concerns you don't know to look for. Southern climates foster different insects than northern ones, for instance; mold infestation may be likelier in humid climates and flood plains; and some regions' geology is more prone than others to emit radon, the naturally occurring gas that's second only to smoking as a source of lung cancer. These are issues you'll want to take into account before you close a sale.
How Much Do Pre-Purchase Home Inspections Cost?
Funds are often tight when you're home shopping, and expenses are always a consideration. While you may not want to make pricing your top priority in choosing a home inspector (thoroughness is the goal), it's wise to compare rates. If you're asking for additional tests or services, it's also acceptable to (respectfully) negotiate a bundled cost.
Pricing for services will vary by location and prevailing market rates but, according to HomeAdvisor, here are some ideas of what to expect:
- Walk-around inspection: $280 to $400. The basic home inspection entails a visual check of the home interior and exterior, and scrutiny of the heating and air conditioning systems, furnace, fireplace, plumbing and electrical systems, appliances and delivery of a report that notes any items of concern.
- Thermal imaging: $250. This test uses a special camera to identify issues within the walls of a home and can reveal otherwise invisible issues such as the presence of pests, moisture infiltration, foundation damage and gaps in insulation.
- Radon test: $150. Homes in areas of the country with high radon levels often have ventilation systems designed to prevent concentration of the gas. Testing for levels of the gas can confirm if those systems are working properly.
- Lead testing: $300. It's not a concern with new construction, but older homes may have remnants of lead paint or plumbing that can be toxic, especially to children.
Additional specialized testing, such as for asbestos or mold, can be quite costly. Depending on your budget, you may only want to have those services performed if you have reason to be concerned due to the home's age, construction materials or other factors. If you ultimately go through with buying the home, those services can always be performed later as well.
The Bottom Line
A thorough home inspection is no minor expense, but it can pay for itself many times over if it uncovers an expensive repair issue you can have the seller address, or that you can cover by reducing the sale price on a home purchase. Choosing an inspector carefully can make you feel better about finalizing your purchase and beginning life in your new house.