Buyer · Home Inspection

Choosing The Right Home Inspector

logo__picWe asked our good friend and suggested Home Inspector, John Burke, to weigh in on the importance of choosing “The Right” Home Inspector. We can attest that this choice is one of the top 5 most important decisions you’ll make in your Real Estate Transaction.  It can be the difference between success and failure, investing in a good home or a future disaster.  Here is some great advice from John Burke. – Lee Gosselin

Buying a new home is among the most exciting and consequential things many of us do in our lives. It can also be one of the most tedious, frustrating, and risky, especially if we fail to make a number of good decisions. The importance of whom we choose to advise us and guide us through the process is perhaps the most important. Paramount, of course, is the selection of a Realtor or licensed real estate agent. Their level of expertise, patience, and desire to serve their clients can make an enormous difference in whether the process goes smoothly, or is fraught with frustration and difficulty. A good representative will not only help find the right home, in the right neighborhood, for the right price; they will make sure that all of the t’s are crossed and i’s dotted in the voluminous mountain of paperwork, and make sure that everything that needs to happen when in needs to happen in the process in order to get to closing on time.

Most seasoned real estate professionals have a list of other professionals whose services you will need, such as inspectors, loan officers, credit improvement specialist, surveyors, closing agents, attorneys and the like. The quality of him or her should be reflected in the quality of the folks they recommend, but the decision on who we hire for each of those services are ours alone as consumers. It is tremendously important that we vet each of these service providers prior to hiring them, in the same manner as selecting the agent to represent us. Most important among them is the home inspector.

A professional home inspector will give you a clear understanding of a home’s condition, from roof to foundation, and all of the other major systems and components in between. Here in Virginia, the Home Inspection Industry is largely unregulated. There has been a voluntary Certification program in place for a few years, which will transform into licensing in 2017, but the bar is very low to meet those requirements. There are a few Industry Trade Associations, such as the American Society of Home Inspectors, and the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, which offer some training and guidance, but there is no uniformity with respect reporting or thoroughness of the inspection process. There are few barriers to entry into the home inspection business, and meeting minimal requirements from the state and trade associations is relatively simple. So, the level of experience and quality varies greatly among home inspectors.

Factors such as the number of years in business, availability of online reviews and sample reports, as well as ratings from the Better Business Bureau should be considered. Another is insurance. A good home inspector will carry professional liability insurance, known as Errors and Omissions, or E&O for short, in addition to General Liability, Workmans Comp, and Commercial Auto policies. E&O insurance covers the professional activities of the inspector, in the event he or she made an error or omission in the written inspection report. It essentially covers you as the consumer, in the event that they make a substantial mistake, or miss a significant defect when inspecting the home. Unfortunately, E&O insurance is not required by the state or by the trade associations as a condition for licensing or membership, so it is important that a prospective home buyer ask about it before hiring an inspector.

As a professional inspector who has been serving the Tidewater area for nearly 15 years, I am often saddened and dismayed by the lack of professionalism among some of my competitors. I was recently hired by a new home owner who had the house inspected by another inspector prior to purchasing it. She called us because she had learned within a couple of weeks of moving in that the home had some serious structural defects, and the inspector she had previously hired failed to take any responsibility for failing to identify them. Prior to calling us, the homeowner had received estimates from a couple of Contractors, each of whom told her that the structural problems would cost in excess of $40,000 to correct. One of them told her that part of the home, which had been modified to add a room over the garage, could collapse as a result of the shoddy work that had been performed. She wanted us to confirm what the Contractors were telling her, and inform her whether or not the defects were something that should have come up during that initial home inspection.

To make a very long story short, the Contractors in this case were correct, but their estimates to repair the damage were probably low, as the defects from the addition were impacting other areas of the house. The other inspector missed numerous signs that un-permitted work had been performed, and that it had been done in an un-workmanlike manner. These defects were glaringly obvious to anyone with a minimal level of training or experience, and they were in no way concealed. At a minimum, he should have called for further evaluation by a Structural Engineer, but did not indicate that there was a concern at all with any of the effected elements. Sadly, his report was in a check-list style format, with very little information on it. Even the few defects he did find and identify (which were not related to the obvious structural concerns) were not explained in a meaningful way. There was no guidance on how to correct those issues, or who to contact to have them evaluated further. In my opinion, that report and the way it was presented was of no value to the prospective homeowner.

Due to the extent of obvious negligence and considerable cost of the issues in this case, the homeowner has legal recourse, but this is the exception to the rule, and it is going to take years to be fully resolved. Most home buyers who hire the wrong home inspector will discover defects after moving in, but are left with little recourse or redress. Choose wisely, or as we say “Inspect the Inspector” prior to hiring them. There are several great inspector is this market, and they will be happy to prove it beforehand if asked.

John Burke is the owner of the Virginia Beach & Chesapeake franchise of HouseMaster Home Inspections, which serves all of south Hampton Roads. He can be reached at 757-549-3433 or john.burke@housemaster.com.

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