Q&A: Tips on Finding a Good Home Inspector

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Question: With prices down and interest rates reasonable, my spouse and I are in the market for a new home. The thing is, we’ve already found one we like and are getting around to having it inspected by a professional. Any tips or potential problems we should know about? — M. Durkin, Chicago

Answer: Good for you — this is a great market to buy a home. That’s the good news. The bad news is that a lousy home inspector can cause you big problems as a homeowner down the road.

If you’re working with a real estate agent, and most homeowners do, see if he or she can recommend a good home inspector. Chances are your agent is well connected in the community and knows the difference between a good inspector and a lousy one — and will act accordingly. But even when an agent recommends an inspector, you should vet that inspector anyway.

If you want to go with your gut and get your own home inspector, follow these rules:

Know what a home inspector does. A good home inspector eyeballs the actual condition of the home you’re buying. Usually, they’re looking for big-ticket items, like faulty wiring or a balky home heating unit. What they won’t do is check out the quality of the home’s insulation (home inspectors won’t typically head to the attic and start digging up insulation), check under carpets for warped floors, or get under your home to look over buried pipelines. Most inspectors also won’t get on the roof and inspect any potential leaky areas.

Is your inspector certified? A good place to start is the American Society of Home Inspectors. The Web site gives you access to 5,000 home inspectors nationwide — use it to find a reputable inspector in your community.

Are you experienced? Only 34 states have actual regulations for home inspection, and many of those aren’t very stringent. So you’re more or less on your own. To cut the risk of using a bad inspector, make sure to ask them how many years they've spent in the business. Again, turn to the ASHI — it requires home inspectors to pass a strict exam and have at least 250 home inspections on their résumé.

What will it cost you? The average range for a decent house inspection, according to industry figures, is between $300 and $400 per inspection. But added costs can beef up the tally. An asbestos test can cost $50 or more. A radon exam may tap you for another $100 or so. Ask going in what the total cost can be. If the inspector can’t tell you, then move on and find an inspector who can.

Does your inspector have insurance? A good home inspector should carry what industry insiders call “errors and omission” insurance. In a nutshell, errors and omission insurance covers any liability or malpractice on the part of your inspector. Not every home inspector has such insurance, and it doesn’t make them a bad inspector if they don’t.

One last tip. The real estate site Trulio.com has a good home inspection checklist. Check it out here.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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