Finding a Good Home Inspector

June 4th, 2011, 1:00 am · · posted by

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George Harper started performing residential and commercial property inspections in 1991 and has performed 6,500 inspections. Prior to starting his inspection business he was a general building contractor specializing in residential custom homes, remodels and commercial tenant improvements. He became a member of the California Real Estate Inspection Association in 1992 and the American Society of Home Inspectors in 2001, the two oldest and most recognized associations for real estate inspectors in the country. Harper will become chairman of the board of CREIA on July 1.

Us: How should someone find a home inspector?

Harper: As with anything the best source to find an Inspector is a referral from a friend or someone who has had a positive experience with a home inspection. Good sources to finding a Home Inspector are professional trade associations, usually under the “find an inspector” category. There are two quality associations available in California. The California Real Estate Inspection Association, CREIA, www.creia.org. The American Society of Home Inspectors, ASHI, www.ashi.org. Both organizations require their members to pass an exam showing competence in the home inspection profession along with requiring that each member maintains continuing educational credits each year, CREIA requiring 30 hours per year and ASHI requiring 20 hours per year. Both organizations have similar missions being primarily consumer protection and awareness along with educating their members. There are a number of Inspectors in California that belong to both organizations, all the better for the home buying public.

Us: Should they rely on their real estate agents to pick one?

Harper: Like in any profession there are the good, not so good and bad. The good agents understand the importance of a good home inspection in protecting the best interest of their client and will only refer quality, seasoned inspectors. On the other end there are, unfortunately agents that do not want any obstacles to closing their escrow and are not keen on referring quality, detail oriented inspectors. It is always a good idea even if the agent has provided a list of inspectors for the client to interview each one before making a decision.

Us: If California does not require home inspectors to be licensed, how can you know you’re getting a good one?

Harper: As stated above referrals from friends, the two professional trade associations are a good starting point. The client should interview all potential Inspectors they are considering asking the following:

  • Is the inspector a Member of the California Real Estate Inspection Association (CREIA) and/or the American Society of Home inspectors (ASHI)
  • What does the inspection cover? – Make sure the inspection and the inspection report meet all applicable requirements and comply with the CREIA and/or ASHI Standards of Practice. Both Standards of Practice are recognized by the California Legislature.
  • How long has the inspector been practicing the home inspection profession and how many inspections have they completed?
  • If relying on an inspector employed by a multi-inspector firm make sure that you obtain the qualifications of the individual inspector as opposed to the Inspection Company. Demand a “statement of qualifications”, resume from the specific Inspector.
  • Is the inspector specifically experienced in residential inspection? – Related experience in construction or engineering is helpful, but is no substitute for training and experience in the unique discipline of home inspection.
  • Does the inspector’s company offer to do repairs or improvements based on the inspection? – This is against the CREIA and ASHI Code of Ethics as it is a defined conflict of interest.
  • How long will the inspection take? – The average for a single inspection is two to three hours for a typical single-family house; anything less may not be enough time to do a thorough inspection. Some inspection firms send a team of inspectors and the time frame may be shorter.
  • How much will it cost? – Costs vary dramatically, depending on the region, size of the house, scope of services and other factors.
  • Does the inspector prepare a written report? – Ask to see samples and determine whether or not you can understand the inspector’s reporting style.
    “ Does the inspector encourage the client to attend the inspection? – This is a valuable educational opportunity, and an inspector’s refusal to allow this should raise a red flag.
  • Does the inspector participate in continuing education programs to keep his or her expertise up to date? – One can never know it all, and the inspector’s commitment to continuing education is a good measure of his professionalism and service to the consumer.
  • Roughly how much should a purchaser budget for a home inspection? What’s the cost typically here in Southern California? Within a given area, the inspection fee may vary depending on a number of factors such as the size of the house, its age and possible optional services offered. Do not let cost be the final factor in deciding whether or not to have a home inspection or in the selection of your home inspector. The sense of security and knowledge gained from a high quality and detailed inspection is well worth the cost, and the lowest-priced inspection is not necessarily a bargain. Low cost inspectors are priced that way for a reason. Use the inspector’s qualifications, including experience, training, as well as professional affiliations as a guide.

Us: What types of things can we expect a home inspector to find? What types of things is it unreasonable to expect a home inspector to find?

Harper: A home inspection is an objective visual examination of the physical structure and systems of a house, from the roof to the foundation. It is not an appraisal, which determines market value. It is not a municipal inspection, which verifies local code compliance.
The home inspector should inspect readily accessible, visually observable, installed systems and components and report to the homebuyer any that are not functioning properly, are significantly deficient, unsafe, or are near the end of their service lives.
A quality inspector will also make recommendations to correct components, or monitor for future correction items needing further evaluation.
The standard home inspector’s report will cover the condition of the home’s heating system; central air conditioning system (temperature permitting); interior plumbing and electrical systems; the roof, attic and visible insulation; walls, ceilings, floors, windows and doors; the foundation, basement and structural components. Also, the report should give the reasoning or explanation as to the nature of any deficiencies.

Us: What recourse does a homeowner have if, after the sale is closed, problems crop up that the inspector should have found, and that the buyer could have used as a bargaining chip with the seller had they known about it?

Harper: The first course of action should the homeowner feel there was a problem or something was missed during the inspection should be to contact the Inspector directly to discuss the issue. No corrective work should be undertaken before the Inspector has an opportunity to review the report and be given the chance to revisit the property. A good inspector will if he/she missed something that should have been discovered during the course of the inspection make good on their services. Keep in mind that the Inspector is operating per an accepted Standards of Practice which states what is required to be inspected and what is not. Homeowner’s expectations should be reasonable in that destructive testing is not being performed and that the inspection is of visible components at the time of inspection. Homeowners should read the contract carefully provided by the Inspector as it states what recourse is available to the homeowner. Also many Inspectors carry although it is not required professional liability, errors and omission insurance.

Us: How many home inspectors there are in California?

Harper: There are no tracking services to give the number of practicing inspectors but I would estimate that at around three thousand, of which less than twelve hundred belong to CREIA, ASHI or both. Is there any type of trend you can identify: For example, it is a growing profession, or is there any move for it to be licensed by the state? Given the state of the overall economy, the trend of those entering the profession has been down but appears to be moving back up. In 2003 CREIA membership topped out at 1250, in 2009 it was down to around 700 and currently it is at around 850 members. We see no potential in the near future to license this profession as the state does not have the available funding to put this in place. The last Sunrise study performed when a licensing bill was being considered also showed that the need to license the profession was not there. There are currently thirty eight states that regulate the Home Inspection Profession through licensing, certification, or a trade practice act. California Home Inspectors are regulated by means of a trade practice act that can be found under the California Business and Professions code 7195-7199.