If you’re reading this page, your probably looking to hire an inspector and maybe having trouble differentiating from all of the inspection company web sites. Here we have provided an unbiased list of questions that you should ask of a home / building inspection company prior to hiring someone to provide critical information about the largest purchase you probably will ever make.
What is the fee?
Although this is the first question we usually hear, the price should not have the most bearing on whom you hire. Inspection companies that market themselves with low prices usually do so because they are new in the business (read: inexperienced) and, being unable or unwilling to distinguish themselves with high quality service, they fall back on low prices. It is a mistake to hire a company simply because they have the lowest price — you will end up with the lowest quality service and you may end up really regretting it. Ask these other questions to get a better idea of the service you will receive as all inspectors are not the same.
Are you licensed?
In New York State, house inspections may only legally be performed by a licensed architect, a licensed engineer, or a licensed home inspector. By definition, one does not necessarily provide better service than another, no matter what you may be told. House inspection is a very unique discipline and the prospective inspector should have proper training and experience specifically in house and building inspections, regardless of which license they carry. So, therefore, it is important to ask the other questions on this page to get a better idea of whom you’re hiring.
Do you belong to any trade associations?
Fully certified membership in a home inspection trade association is a good indication that a prospective inspector is serious about their work. Membership is not cheap and requires annual continuing education that is currently more stringent than state licensing requirements. The oldest, most well respected associations in our area are ASHI (American Society of Home Inspectors) and NAHI (National Association of of Home Inspectors), whose local chapter is called MAHI (Metropolitan Association of Home Inspectors). These are non-profit associations dedicated to educating their members and promoting quality service to the public from this industry. To become fully certified in either group, one must pass a difficult exam and prove that they have completed a considerable number of fee-paid inspections, which are then verified to be in compliance with the standards that the association has set forth.
A third group, which will not be named here, is a relatively new organization that has very low requirements to become “Certified”, thus providing new and inexperienced entrants into this business a “qualification”. It seems as through their main thrust is building their membership (and profits for the board) rather than building quality service in this field, as they have been known to lobby NY state for less stringent requirements for licensing of home inspectors. They were recently sued for copyright infringement by NAHI because their name was too similar. They ended up changing their name to something still similar but slightly more different. Membership to this third group is generally not viewed as any kind of legitimate qualification by serious practitioners of house and building inspections.
How long have you been doing this work?
After licensing for home inspectors was made law in NYS, inspector schools sprung up and tripled the amount of home inspectors across the state by providing a course specifically tailored to meet home inspector licensing requirements, which right now are not very stringent. As with any type of school, they provide rudimentary training, but graduates are by no means qualified to go out and start giving you advice on the biggest purchase you probably will ever make. Inspectors can and must take training before entering the field but all the training in the world is no substitute for experience. (Hint: Those who advertise their training may not have the experience you should be looking for.) The bottom line is…you want to make sure you get an inspector who has the experience to provide you the information you need.
Is a sample report available?
Many inspection companies now provide a sample report on their web sites. If they don’t, you should ask for one. This is where you get to see the level of quality provided by a given house and building inspection service. Is the report clear and easy to understand? Are there photos? If so, are they large enough to see the pertinent details and clearly annotated? Does the report look like it explains issues in enough detail or will you continually have to call back to get clarification? Are there cost estimates? Perusing a sample report is a must!
Do your reports include photos?
There are still a few inspection companies out there that don’t provide photos in their reports. Incorporating photos takes extra time, but a picture is worth a thousand words and reports are more valuable to you with them.
Do your reports include cost estimates?
Knowing that a heating system or roof is shot is one thing. But you will really want to know what the replacement costs will be so you can plan accordingly and/or maybe negotiate the sales price. Make sure your inspector can provide cost estimates for needed repairs.
When do I receive the written report?
When purchasing a property, once you have an offer accepted, you have a limited amount of time to sign a sales contract. In many cases, the seller wants to move things along as quickly as possible. Since a property inspection plays a major role in helping you determine if and how to move forward, you need to have the written report as soon as possible after the site inspection. Most companies will provide it within a few days via mail or email. Ask this question to make sure you will be able move along in a timely manner. Beware of on-site “checklist” reports, as they are generally an inferior product, that forces you to navigate large areas of irrelevant text and short handwritten sentence fragments.
Is a termite certificate included in the fee? (for financed purchases)
Most lenders will require a termite certificate in order to underwrite a house. A separate termite inspection from a pest control company can cost anywhere from $75 to $125. Many building inspection companies include them with their reports but some don’t. If you must choose between having the certificate provided by the house inspector or a pest control technician, remember: the house inspectors do not sell treatments (and are therefore not motivated to “find” a problem).
Do you access the roof with a ladder?
Houses with pitched roofs do not have access from inside. The only way to fully evaluate the condition and quality of installation of the roofing material is to see it up close. The only way to see it up close is with a ladder. Most inspectors will not access a 2-story roof with a ladder, so this is an important question to ask. Even if the roof is new, it does not mean that it was installed correctly. Proper evaluation of roofing cannot be done from the street with binoculars.
Do you open all electric panels?
Perhaps the most important thing an inspector can do when visiting a property is to remove covers from electric panels to check for unsafe wiring. Yet there are a few companies, including a prominent “engineering” firm that we know of, that do not provide this critical service.
Do you do combustion safety testing on heating equipment?
Practically every building has gas- or oil-fired heating equipment. Combustion safety testing determines if the fuel is burning efficiently and fully escaping through the chimney. Poor combustion is potentially deadly.
Do you enter accessible attics and crawl spaces?
Attics and crawl spaces can provide critical details about a building. Entering these spaces often requires an inspector to be in good physical shape and small access openings may prevent access by (to be as polite as possible) portly inspectors. Therefore, an attic or crawl space may be disqualified as “inaccessible” simply because of the physical characteristics of the inspector.
Can I speak to the inspector prior to making an appointment and ask specific questions about the property I’m interested in?
You should be able to make your specific concerns known ahead of time. This not only allows you to establish a comfort level with your inspector, but will help you determine if the inspection service will meet your needs.
How much notice do you need to make an appointment?
In this business, the seller contingent usually wants things done as quickly as possible and inspection companies have adapted to this need. Most companies can provide an appointment to your convenience if you provide 2 to 3 days lead time. In many cases, you can get an appointment with less notice, albeit with less likelihood.
What preparations should be done for the inspection?
Be sure that whoever is providing access to the building understands that all areas of the building should be made accessible (which can be somewhat challenging if there are tenants involved) and make sure they understand that we will need the building for a few hours. If the building is vacant, try to arrange to have all of the utilities (water, gas, electricity) turned on, as you get the most out of the service that way. Try to avoid bringing small children if possible as they can be a distraction.
Are you insured?
There are two types of insurance that home and building inspectors carry: General Liability (GL), which insures against damages to the property caused by the inspector, and Errors and Omissions (EO), which insures against major mistakes or negligently omitted items in the report. State law requires home inspectors to carry GL as a license requirement. EO is optional, but most inspectors carry it.