It's late Sunday afternoon and Ted drops into his living room recliner chair in an exhausted heap after spending the last six hours finalizing the deal on a house he's purchasing. He's looked at about 70 homes in the past 4 months and now he's finally got an accepted offer on one. "At last, it's over! Soon, I'll be in a home of my own," he thinks to himself. Just then he remembers the folded piece of paper in his breast pocket. It's a typed list with the names and phone numbers of three home inspectors his real estate agent gave him along with verbal instructions to choose one. As part of the purchase agreement he must complete all the inspections of the property within ten days. It's not over yet; in fact there is a lot to do before he gets the keys to his piece of the American dream.
It's Sunday so he won't try calling the inspectors on the phone list until the morning instead he decides to go on the Internet to see what he can learn. He searches for data about home inspectors and finds the California Real Estate Inspection Association.
It came as quite a shock to Ted when he learned that California requires no licensing nor does it regulate home inspectors in any way. The state does not require any sort of registering, background checks, testing, financial bonding or insurance of any kind for home inspectors. Consequently, the state doesn't know who is inspecting properties and does absolutely no monitoring or policing of this part of the real estate industry.
Ted considers this a huge risk given the fact that he has to hire an unlicensed, unregulated person to advise him on what may be the largest investment of his life. Should something go wrong, what government agency will be there to help sort things out?
How does Ted go about finding a true professional to correctly evaluate and advise him on the largest, most important investment deal he has made to date?
Many real estate inspectors are very professional, totally ethical and very well insured yet too many are not. Virtually all of the professional real estate inspectors are voluntary members of a recognized professional inspection association such as the California Real Estate Inspection Association (CREIA) or the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI.). CREIA is the largest association of professional real estate inspectors in the state of California and the oldest in the country. Some other states also have their own inspector associations, but not all do. If your state does not have its own home inspector association you can find an ASHI inspector. ASHI is a North American association with members in every state and Canada.
To belong to either of those organizations the inspector must pay a fee and pass a substantial examination, agree to perform each inspection in accordance with the association's Standards of Practice and adhere to a Code of Ethics to become certified. Maintaining that certification requires 30 hours of continuing education each year.
Still, each home inspector, like any other person in a professional trade, is an individual with his or her own background, education and experience. Therefore, each needs to be evaluated on his or her own merits. A good source to find a reliable inspector is your real estate agent or your loan officer. Also a family member or someone you trust who has first hand experience with a qualified professional could be useful. Also, a list of local inspectors can be found at http://www.creia.org/ or http://www.ashi.org/ or http://www.inspectorsguide.com/
Here's a list of questions to ask your candidates:
•What inspection association do you belong to? (CREIA, ASHI, other?)
•What is your professional background? (General contractor, engineer, etc.)
•What is you construction experience? (Homebuilder, handyman, roofer, etc.?)
•What is your experience as an inspector?
•Do you have Errors and Omissions insurance in case of an unfortunate situation?
•Is your report a printed checklist or is it computer generated with evaluations of issues?
•Is your written report delivered on site or do I have to wait for the paperwork?
•Are photographs included in your report?
•How long do you usually spend on an average inspection?
•Do you usually crawl in the attic and under the building and get onto the roof?
•Will you explain the issues to me either during or at the end of the inspection?
•Will you answer questions should they arise some time after the day of the inspection?
Do what you can to get as many of these questions answered as possible. During the process you should be able to get some sense of what level professional you are dealing with and how easy it will be to get your questions answered at the inspection.
The inspection of a property is a vital step in purchasing any building so its best if the buyer is present during the process. Ask questions until you feel you have a good understanding of what you are buying. Don't be surprised if further investigations and evaluations by specialty professionals are needed should issues be found with the chimney or plumbing pipes or mold for example. This may sound like more work then you expected, but it will be well worth the effort should an expensive hidden defect be discovered. When buying a building, it pays to know as much as possible before you close the deal.
Hire competent professionals so you can make intelligent decisions during the escrow process because trying to get compensated for problems that are discovered after you move in can often be a stressful and costly process. And as for Ted, the inspiration for this article, he found me and used my list of questions to hire a good inspector and is very happy in his new home.
By John A. LaRocca, of the California Real Estate Inspection Association Certified Inspector and a licensed general contractor since 1969. For questions or comments (818) 951-1795 or http://www.laroccainspect.com/