What standards do inspectors have?
Not only should home inspectors have experience and be knowledgeable about building techniques and materials, but they should also have some way to document that.
ASHI requires its members to pass two comprehensive written tests and to perform at least 250 professional fee-paid inspections. After a report review and a minimum of six months as a candidate, they may be granted membership. They must also uphold ASHI-prescribed ethical standards, which helps prevent conflicts of interest and promotes fairness in dealing with consumers.
“Some people who call themselves inspectors will comment on the market value of a home, try to enter into the negotiations, or solicit repair work after an inspection,” says ASHI President John Palczuk, who also heads Carolina Home Inspection Associates Inc. in Raleigh, N.C. “ASHI inspectors won't do that.”
Are home inspectors licensed?
Some states require licensing of home inspectors. According to ASHI, they are Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin.
What actually do inspectors do?
If you're afraid you'll sound silly on this one, don’t be. First, a home inspector isn’t a guarantor or the municipal or county inspector looking for code violations, Palczuk says. The inspector examines the components of a home that are accessible and visible.
“But minor or cosmetic flaws should be apparent without the aid of an inspector,” he notes.
In a typical prepurchase home inspection, according to ASHI standards, the inspector will look at the heating system, central air-conditioning system, interior plumbing and electrical systems, roof, attic, visible insulation, walls, ceilings, floors, windows and doors, and foundation, basement, and visible structure.
What should I tell the buyers or sellers if they balk at an inspection?
For sellers, an inspection gives them a better idea of any problem areas that might exist, Palczuk says. Thus they have a chance to make repairs that will put the house in better selling condition or to adjust the listing price accordingly.
For buyers, many of whom are making the biggest investment of their lives, the inspection helps eliminate surprises that can sour a deal.
Why can’t buyers and sellers do their own inspection?
Neither sellers nor buyers can stay objective about property they have a financial—or emotional—interest in, says Palczuk. They need an objective opinion from a trained third party. Inspectors understand a home's systems and how they function together and why they might fail.
Good home inspectors can provide all parties with an objective assessment, which can be a plus when you need to counter “handypersons” who'd like to do their own inspection.
Can an inspector flunk your house?
No. Because a home inspection isn’t an appraisal or a code inspection, an inspector can’t fail a house. An inspector will describe the home's physical condition and indicate what may need major repair or replacement.
Will an inspector kill your deal?
No. “Think of the inspector as an educator,” says Palczuk.
The inspector educates the sellers and the buyers about the conditions of a home, with an important aspect being to highlight the positive qualities. For the sellers, the inspector can help demonstrate your good faith to protect their interests in terms of legal obligations to disclose the home's condition. And the inspector's comments or recommendations can help dispel buyers’ worries and offer useful maintenance tips.
When do inspectors get started, how much do they charge, and how long do they take?
Generally, home inspectors get started after the sales contract is signed, provided the contract includes a clause making the final sale contingent on the results of the home inspection. Most inspectors are available on a one- to 14-day notice, Palczuk says. Costs and time vary, depending on the purchase price, location, size, age, and any special features of the home.
Do home inspectors view all kinds of properties, like condos, town homes, and new homes?
Yes. The home inspector knows how to treat these kinds of properties, which sometimes have unique requirements. In multifamily dwellings, for example, each individual unit—no matter how small—is part of the bigger whole, the association. Inspectors know that big costs to the association will result in big assessments to the unit owners, says Palczuk. “The mentality that the association maintains everything is a big myth,” he says. “If there are 300 condos, you are 1/300th of the association. So if you take care of a small problem before it becomes a big problem, assessments for repairs may be reduced.”
As for new homes, inspectors go beyond the visit by the typical building inspector, whose visit may take only 20 to 40 minutes to ensure the home warrants a certificate of occupancy. A home inspector's scrutiny could take two to three hours.
“It’s not to be critical of building inspectors, but they won't pick up everything,” Palczuk says. “And the defects we pick up often parallel code violations.”
How do I find an inspector?
You can ask other brokers or your sales associates for their best recommendations or consult the Yellow Pages. But be aware that the field of home inspections is rapidly growing. Not everyone who does inspections is actually qualified. You can get a list of ASHI members in your area by calling the ASHI fax-on-demand number, 800/743-2744, or by visiting www.ashi.com.
NAR analysts note that many brokers recommend at least three inspectors to buyers to reduce liability for assigning only one to them.