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Homebuyer's Guide –
Written by Chris Lowe, MCI
It's Not Just the Resume
Why some home inspectors are really better than others
It's 8:30 a.m. and I pull up to my first inspection of the day. I have been told that the home recently came up "clean" on a previous inspection. However, by noon, some significant issues have emerged: foundation cracks, damaged roof framing, two plumbing leaks, some drainage problems, a problematic electrical panel, and so-on.
How can two inspections be so different? While I do not know the specifics for the previous inspector on this home, one of the most common differences we usually find is time – home inspectors vary a great deal on how much time we take to crawl and view in difficult areas. In my experience, many overlooked items typically happen in areas that are difficult to access such as the crawlspace or in the attic.
At my second inspection of the day, the listing agent asks how long I expect the inspection to last. I mention three and a half hours and she becomes visibly upset. "Usually a home inspection for a house this size lasts two hours," she says. "Not for an ASHI or CREIA inspection," I reply. "We have to crawl under the house, open every electric panel, crawl the attic, etc. It takes time."
I have the same conversation nearly every day. In fact, the number one question I get is, “how much longer?”
Why would an inspector want to cut corners? Why would an agent want an inspector to cut corners? The answer is, inspection is a tough business, and quick inspectors make more money doing more jobs per day for less work. Quick inspectors also can get many more referrals from realtors who are over-protective of their commissions, or who want to give their clients the low-cost alternatives. Many otherwise-decent real estate agents have also been misled by quick inspectors to believe that a quick inspection is good.
The best realtors have no flinch factor when it comes to thoroughness. They understand that you, the buyer, are spending your life savings, and want a full investigation. If the house is not right, it is not right. Their job is to protect you, and the good ones keep sight of that. I have agents that thank me for taking my time and being thorough, and those are the ones that tend to recommend me.
How do you find a thorough home inspector? You will want to qualify your prospective inspector based on his or her time onsite and by verifying his or her experience. Experience, to some extent, can be measured with credentials. If you have internet access, you can visit ASHI.org (national) or CREIA.org (California) to verify that your home inspector has taken the time and effort to pass their exams and evaluations. ASHI (American Society of Home Inspectors) is the only nationally accredited home inspection association. CREIA (California Real Estate Inspection Association), on the other hand, has higher designations such as "master inspector,” which I highly recommend. Inspectors who are not ASHI or CREIA members are often not qualified, in my opinion.
How do you weed out the quick ones? To find out how long an inspector will spend on your future investment, my recommendation is, simply ask. They will tell you. If they say they will be onsite for a good amount of time, I recommend that you have them guarantee it in a quick email before the inspection. Just explain that you have heard of people who have had quick, cursory inspections, and you don’t want to get bitten. The really good inspectors will be glad to hear this.
In my opinion, a typical house (~1,500 square feet) with a slab foundation should take three hours. Anything less allows the inspection to get rushed, or the inspector to cut out some key areas. A typical home with a crawlspace (~1,500 square feet) should take three and a half hours (I took four hours recently for a slightly larger house).
Please keep in mind that any home inspector could make much more money by doing three or four inspections per day. The great home inspectors, however, know that a prudent service pays off much more in the long run. Each house is a new discovery project, and helping clients by being thorough should be as important to an inspector as running a successful business.
Once again, you are paying for an inspector's time and expertise. If you qualify them carefully, you can get the best of both. There are great home inspectors out there, and some who are not so great, and everything in-between. A little research can help you find the one who is best for you.
Thank you, and as always, protect your investment and ensure the safety of your family.