Make it Count - Choose a Qualified Home Inspector
The process of searching for and purchasing a home that fulfills your dreams can be one of the most trying, stressful and rewarding episodes of your life. Before moving to Florida many years ago, my wife and I lived in nine (!) different homes in eight different states; more moves than anyone should bear. Each time we moved, the process was just as demanding as the time before. You scour an area looking for good schools, low taxes, and a house you can afford. You talk with co-workers, friends, family, and neighbors. You work with real estate agents, mortgage brokers, insurance agents, and attorneys. After several months of searching the internet, going to open houses, and touring a dozen or more homes, you still haven't found the perfect house. Then, in the middle of a short drive to the dentist, you pass a house with a for sale sign you never saw before. It has nice trees, a pretty porch, a great yard, and lots of bedrooms. A voice from with in says "this is it." You call your agent, set up a showing, and boom, you're in love. Now you consult your lender, feverishly write up a purchase offer with your agent. The seller haggles a little, but then, it all comes together and your offer is accepted. You are about to become a home owner.
With the acceptance of your contract, comes a new set of commitments to fulfill, and this time they carry legally binding deadlines. One key obligation typically requested by you as the buyer is to have the home inspected within several days following contract acceptance. That is definitely a prudent idea. But, how in the heck do you find and hire a qualified home inspector?
Step 1 - Understand the home inspection business in Florida
In Florida there are no regulations or laws controlling home inspectors. Anyone may claim to be a home inspector with no education or experience. You are at risk unless you check credentials, and in this arena your ignorance could be extremely costly.
Step 2 - Avoid these three big mistakes:
i. Thinking you don't need an inspection
Buying a home is the smartest and biggest financial decision you will ever make. Protect your investment by ordering an inspection before you buy to find out if there are any unseen problems that may be very costly to fix.
ii. Ordering a Cheap Inspection
The cost of a home inspection is very small relative to the home being inspected., typically .002% of a home's price. Choosing a home inspector based solely on cost usually gets you a sub-standard inspection.
iii. Not Hiring a Professional Inspector
There are many people who offer inspections but who do not have the proper qualifications and experience to deliver quality service. Do not be misled. The quality of your inspection is entirely dependant on the specific individual who performs your inspection and their level of professionalism.
Step 3. Identify two or three reputable inspectors (Here's good checklist)
A___ Ask your real estate agent, family and friends for referrals. Looking in the yellow pages and on the internet will provide you a dizzying list of names and companies, some to definitely avoid. You must go through a vetting process, even of inspectors referred to you.
B___ Look for individuals who are a members of A.S.H.I., (American Society of Home Inspectors) the highest quality, nationally recognized, not-for-profit professional association for home inspectors. There are many other inspection organizations with fancy names that only charge a fee, have a "test", then issue a certificate, but they may have very few additional requirements regarding the inspector's depth and breadth of knowledge and experience.
C___ Keep your search focused on the individual (get his/her name) who will actually perform your inspection, not just the name of a "firm" with a franchise or a web-site. There are many national inspection franchises available for purchase. (too many to list) For a nominal fee the headquarters provides literature, a website, and marketing tools. The franchiser's intent is to make money selling franchises, not ensuring their local owners are proficient, competent, or provide professional service. This does not mean, however, that all individuals having a franchise should be rejected.
D___ Confirm the inspector is professional and inspects as a fulltime occupation. To be competent and reliable requires much more than part-time or casual involvement. If they or their firm perform other construction related services, turn away.
E___ Never consider an individual if they intimate in any way that in addition to inspecting, they will also make repairs. This is an egregious offer. It creates an immediate conflict of interest to your detriment. The person's objective is to win your inspection job with a cheap price, than lure you into other repairs that may not be needed, or sell them to you without competitive pricing or professional reproach.
F___ Confirm the inspector's qualifications and check references. With today's internet technology, you can do this in a just a few minutes on-line. If they claim to be a member of an organization, find the organization on-line and check. If they claim to carry a license or certificate, go to the State of Florida's website to confirm it. For example, only a state authorized inspector may conduct a "Termite" inspection, and they must carry their state issued I.D. card during the inspection. Be sure to also confirm your inspector's level of education, training, or experience in the construction or inspection industry. Feel free to ask for references you may call to confirm the inspectors reputation.
G___ Avoid inspectors who do not list their physical address, or fail to provide a personal photo of themselves with their name next to the photo. A company may be located far away from your neighborhood, take your call, and then send out whom ever they choose. They may even sub-contract the job to an inspector from another firm needing work who shares the fee with the company who took your call.
H___ Avoid inspectors who only use a phone messaging system to take you call, or who use a service vehicle with no permanently affixed logo representing themselves or their firm.
I___ Ask your potential inspector for a sample inspection report. A quality report is a narrative description of findings with detailed photographs and at least 15 pages long.
If only a checklist of items constitutes the report, be concerned the person is only focused on punching computer buttons rather than putting on gloves and a mask to crawl thru your attic.
J___ Ask your inspector if he carries Errors & Omissions (E&O) insurance for home inspection services. Ask for a copy of the insurance certificate. Insurance is not required by Florida law, but serious, full-time professionals typically choose to carry it.
K___ Determine if your inspector guarantees or warrantees his work. Quality inspectors do. Some offer a bridge-warranty for things that go wrong with the house from the time of the inspection until shortly after you take possession of the house.
Step 4. Call the inspector and have a meaningful conversation about your needs. If for any reason there is resistance to your request to learn about them or confirm their qualifications, move on to another inspector.
Step 5. Confirm prices and fees for the complete inspection.
Be concerned with inspectors who do not list their fees or show them on their website. You should not have to be baited to call someone to know their fee. Nearly all inspectors charge according to the size (square feet) of a home, some will perform mold sampling, some offer termite inspections, or a host of other legitimate inspection services depending on the complexity of the home and your level of needs. Don't let "extra" services and fees be a surprise the day of the inspection. If your inspector starts offering to do other things for additional money during the inspection, you will know something is not right. Getting the fees all worked out in advance is paramount.
Step 6. Attend the inspection in person.
An inspection is a rigorous technical review of your home. The process will teach you a great deal. You'll have a chance to ask questions and learn things you may never see on This Old House. (an excellent show by the way) A quality inspector should invite and welcome you into the inspection process. However, please be sensitive to their time and their commitments to other clients. Taking a few extra minutes here and there should pose no problems.
Step 7. Read the inspection contract and be ready to pay for the inspection.
All professional inspectors will have a service contract for you to sign before beginning their inspection. Feel free to take time to read it and ask any questions you may have. After you sign it, be sure to keep a copy for your records. Payment for the inspection should be made before the inspection date or when the inspector arrives to begin his work. A personal check should be accepted with no problem. Not all inspectors use credit cards due the relatively high fees associated with them compared to the number of monthly transactions, plus very few clients charge the fee.
Step 8. Allow one or two days for the complete report to be ready.
A quality report takes a thorough analysis of the inspector's finding, and integration of meaningful photographs. It requires typing much data and a host of related information. If unique issues arise in the inspection, a good inspector is going to take time to research them for clarification. Many inspectors will sequester themselves after an inspection, or at the end of the day, to block out interruption and noise so they may focus on being articulate and clear in writing their findings. A report issued "on-site" or the "same day" likely does not serve your best interest.
Step 9. Verify your report is confidential. You do not want YOUR report getting into the hands of the seller or the seller's agent. The report must remain under your control. No other individual should receive a copy unless you request it, or you present it directly. In addition, your inspector needs to maintain fiduciary responsibilities with you. He is your exclusive agent. He should not discuss your report or inspection with anyone other than you. For example, if the seller or seller's agent attempts to call him for a verbal summary or to rebuke a particular finding, your inspector should not allow himself to engage the conversation.
Step 10. Read your report in detail. There will be a great deal of information in the report that will affect your decision to buy your dream home. You don't want to learn about an issue after you move in that could be very costly, or be an issue you have to live with, when you otherwise had the chance to know about it in advance.
Step 11. Call the inspector to clarify uncertainties. Your quality inspector will take the time to review any questions or concerns you may have. Your inspector should not refer other specific contractors or firms for expert analysis or to make repairs, even when such is needed. An inspector is taking advantage of you when you hire him to find problems then he turns around and recommends one or two of his associates to fix the "problems" he found. Your inspector must remain objective.
Step 12. Be confident moving forward with your home purchase.
Your diligence selecting and hiring a professional home inspector, and learning the technical aspects about your home will give you the necessary confidence to move forward with your purchase, and to smoothly progress to successful ownership of your dream home.
Greg Bertaux is a licensed professional engineer and home inspector. His company, ISLE management Corp., provides property inspection services along the entire Treasure Coast. For more information, visit www.IMHomeInspector.com or call (772) 569-2141.
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