How to Hire the Right Home Inspector

25 years ago, a home inspection was a rare thing, and professional home inspectors were few and far between. Now, nearly every buyer knows that they should get an inspection, and there is a seemingly endless supply of inspectors, all claiming some ‘certification’ or credentials that sound impressive. But how do you know which is the right inspector for you?

Well, here are a few simple thoughts from someone inside the business (some of which, many inspectors will be upset with me for revealing, and will hope you won’t read them). Interview them personally. Don’t just take someone’s advice that “this guy is good.” Talk to them.

  • Ask them about what they do (and don’t do – many don’t walk roofs, some don’t give repair cost estimates).
  • Ask them about their reports (simple checklist, or descriptive narrative?)
  • Do they provide repair cost estimates?
  • Are they licensed (if necessary in your sate)?
  • How long have they been in business?
  • What is their background and/or training?
  • Are they members of the BBB or Angie’s List or other consumer oriented groups?
  • Most importantly, do they treat you with respect and listen to what your needs are?

You will quickly find that there is a world of difference in Inspectors and how they view YOU, the client, as part of the inspection. Some see you as a necessary evil, or an interruption of “their” inspection. You will know you have hired one of these inspectors if they hand you a measuring tape to keep you busy measuring rooms while they inspect.

Often on inspector chat boards they talk about “controlling” their inspection, as if the client is a bother. Never forget: The inspection is (and SHOULD be) all about YOUR education, and making YOU comfortable with your new home.

E & O Insurance.

Ask your inspector if they are insured. Many inspectors treat this question as if you have just asked them for their Debit Card and PIN, but it is a legitimate and VERY intelligent question for clients to ask. You wouldn’t let an uninsured plumber work on your pipes, would you? So why allow an uninsured inspector advise you on the entire home and all of its systems and components? E&O (Errors and Omissions) Insurance is your protection that if the inspector misses something significant, that you won’t be left paying for that mistake.

Experience.

My dad always said: “There is no substitute in life for experience.” (He also said, “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.”) This is also true when it comes to inspectors. While some may have read it in the best books available, you simply have to learn some things by doing them. (Like, for example, never test the door to a room by closing it from the inside of the room. The reason why will be instantly clear when the knob falls off in your hand and you are stuck on the interior.)

You will know just by talking to an inspector and asking them the questions listed above whether you are talking to a raw “newbie” or a seasoned pro. Some pride themselves on “writing up” lots of defects, but often, many of these items are actually quite common and relatively minor (the kinds of things most sellers won’t address or compensate for). Some inspectors also pride themselves on being disliked by Realtors. This simply mystifies me since most Realtors I know honestly care about putting their client in a good home, and respect the opinion of the inspector. Most times, this indicates to me an inspector who is a little full of himself, and may be out to prove how much he knows, or wants to make a major deal out of a minor issue.

Certifications are a dime a dozen in the inspection industry. Every day, my email inbox is jammed with people selling more quick and easy “certifications” of this and that. In fact, one place will certify you (yes, you) as a “master” inspector if you take several free online courses and send them a check for $375 – without ever performing a single inspection! As you can see, certifications are highly suspect. Professionally, the ones that are truly significant are offered by the International Code Council (ICC) and certify that the inspector has a detailed understanding of current building code (particularly helpful if you are purchasing new construction).

In general, I would recommend an inspector who has performed at least 1,000 inspections, and has at least 3 years experience – but even among these, you must ask the other questions to get the best fit for your needs.

Choices.

Does the inspector offer choices to accommodate you? All buyers are not the same. All homes are not the same. So why do most inspectors offer the same inspection to all clients? Ask if they offer choices in prices, level of detail, and services offered. An investor seeking an opinion on the basic components (structure, roof, electrical, plumbing, HVAC) of a home they intend to renovate may not need the meticulous detail required by a nervous First Time Buyer. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you really need, even if it seems to be more (or less) than what the inspector typically offers. If the inspector you speak to can’t offer the service you need, keep searching, you will find one that does.

Price.

Which brings us to the last point, and the first question most people ask: “How much does an inspection cost?” The answer is – it depends (mostly on your area of the country, and the size of your home). Most inspectors base the price on square feet (the larger the home, the longer it takes to inspect). Be cautious of those who use price or zip code as a determining factor (buying a more expensive home in a more affluent neighborhood can dramatically increase your price with these inspectors who believe you must have more money to spend). Shop prices around. You CAN and WILL find a reasonably priced inspector who is every bit as good or better than the highest priced inspectors.

A good clue is: If someone doesn’t post their prices on their website, they are higher than is typical. Again, many inspectors will react rudely with some variation of “you get what you pay for.” Ask that inspector if they buy Premium Unleaded at the most expensive gas station in town, and then look through the grocery store circulars to find the highest priced items available – after all, they must be the best if they are the most expensive!

3 Tips to Help Home Inspectors Grow Their Business

Get a Website

The internet plays a major role in our everyday lives and home inspectors must have an online presence. When today’s consumers need something done, they go straight to Google and look at the first few results. Being in this business without a web site is like going to an inspection without a flash light. You’re missing something crucial! Buying a domain name and creating a simple website is easier than you think. Hosting companies such as GoDaddy, Network Solutions, and HostGator all offer domains and easy to customize templates that make building a website simple. It is almost as easy as typing a Word document. With GoDaddy for example, you can buy a domain name for just $12 and then pay a small monthly fee of $5 for them to host it. If an inspector is too busy or not comfortable with computers, there are many companies that specialize in creating websites for businesses.

Every website should have contact information, information about the inspector, the services they provide, a sample inspection report, and any relevant information about the business. It is important to have a quality website with good content so that the site will have a good ranking with search engines. To do this, inspectors should take time to add quality content to their site. Writing informative articles about home inspections, as well as including photos and videos is a great place to start. A home inspector should also use search engine optimization (SEO) tools to increase the visibility of the website with search engines. It is important to focus on keywords and phrases, such as your city and home inspection or home inspector. The term “home inspection” is so broad, an inspector is better off focusing their efforts on ranking high for the city or area where they conduct home inspections. For example, a home inspector in Cincinnati would have more success ranking higher for the term “Cincinnati home inspection” or a smaller town within Cincinnati such as Fairfield of Finneytown then they would “home inspection”.

Get Involved With Social Media

There are many social media outlets, but the main sites are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube. These sites are great for personal use, but also provide an incredible opportunity to connect with current and future clients. Many well-known companies are using social media today because they see the value in it. It provides them with the ability to be in constant contact with their clients. Social media is becoming so popular, that businesses can no longer afford not to be involved. If they don’t jump on board, they are going to be left behind by their competition. The best thing about all of the sites mentioned here is that they are all free to join.

Create Professional Reports

Professional looking reports created with home inspection software can separate a home inspector from their competition and lead to new referrals. Home inspection reports are passed around by potential home buyers, realtors, and past customers with each report having the inspector’s name and company right on the cover. It is important that the report leaves a great impression on whoever sees it because that can lead to a referral for the inspector. A year or two after the home inspection, the report itself may be all the client has or remembers from the inspection. This is why a professional looking report is so valuable to a home inspector.

The above three suggestions are a great way for a home inspector to grow their business. A company website that provides quality content is crucial in today’s world and a must for any business. Once the website is up and running, inspectors need to join the social media phenomenon. Social media provides a great opportunity to connect with customers for free. Lastly, an inspector should not underestimate the importance of a professional looking report. An inspection report is a direct reflection of the inspector and can be a great tool to gain referrals. If a home inspector takes advantage of these opportunities, they will put themselves in a position to grow their business and ultimately making more money.

So You Want to Be a Home Inspector?

What I am about to tell you may get me in hot water with all those self help experts and schools that promote home inspection courses and basically anyone who makes money off of new home inspector’s. That’s OK I can take the heat.

First let’s take care of the myth that a home inspector can make $20,000 to $30,000 a year part time and $60,000 to $80,000 full time. This myth is perpetuated by educators and self help experts. The reality is that you do not make any where near that type of money in the first year, maybe the second year but for most it’ll be the third year. Many new inspectors are not aware of this reality and become disillusioned and do one of two things either quit or slash their inspection fees hoping to gain more business. The latter is not a good idea because it will hurt your fellow inspectors and more than likely you’ll quit finding that the lower fees won’t pay the bills.

Another reality that you are not informed about is cost. It can cost you a pretty penny from thermal cameras, high tech equipment to educational courses. These could cost you between $10,000 and $15,000 and that doesn’t even include vehicles, licenses, errors and omission and general liability insurance, association fees etc… Are you scared yet? you should be.

You need to walk into this with your eyes open and you’ll be OK. Oh, and by the way you will need a second income to survive. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great industry to get involved in and the rewards can be great in the long term and the key words are long term. You need to develop a game plan and stick to it through thick and thin and it should involve a lot of marketing, website development and personal study. Below are some quick pointers to guide you along the right path.

Before you start anything do your research and the first place to hit is the industries message boards. Here you will feel the pulse of the industry from new and seasoned inspectors. Go to local chapter meetings. When you have completed that first step and feel you still want to become an inspector research your local community and see if it can support another inspector at this time. In the big urban areas this is not as much a factor as it is in rural areas.

If you are still interested then it is time to research your education. Research your home inspector schools, not all are created equal. Pick the best one that fits your budget. If you have a trades background you’ll have a leg up, but remember building, repairs and installation are different animals than inspecting. If you do not have a trades background it’s time to hit the books and read on everything about the systems of a home.

You should also join a national association, the three biggies in the U.S. are the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, American Society of Home Inspectors and National Association Of Home Inspectors. In Canada you have the Canadian National Association of Certified Home Inspectors and Canadian Association of Property and Home Inspectors. For dollar value I think InterNACHI is the best with the amount of free education and member benefits they offer inspectors. Many states and provinces have their regional associations as well, think about joining them they represent you at a local level.

Now that you are on your way to becoming a home inspector, another item that should be in your arsenal is your reporting software. The most popular are Home Inspector Pro, Home Gauge and 3D. I personally use HIP because of it’s ease of use. The other inspecting programs are just as good. You need to research which one will suit your needs. They all offer free trial downloads so that you can experiment with them. Remember, you definitely need software, checklists are so 80’s and 90’s that they scream newbie. Also get a website that matches your software. In this day and age of online shopping you are basically dead without one.

I have given you some reality checks and some pointers even though I did not touch on many things that will effect you, that is part of your research assignment about entering the property inspection field. Remember my warning, this isn’t a get rich quick scheme, instead it is a lot of hard work and long hours. If anyone tells you differently they are doing you a disservice. So take off those rose colored glasses, get down to some hard work and a lot of studying, some heart breaking moments which will eventually be followed by elation and join me in this wonderful world of home inspections.