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HomeAdvisor's Guide to Hiring a Home Inspector

Home inspectors are third parties who will come out to the house you’re buying and inspect it. They will provide a report detailing whether or not things such as air conditioning, doors, windows, foundations, and other components are in good order. A home inspection is not something to trust a friend or relative with. It is also not something to trust to the selling agent who has a vested interest in convincing you to buy the house. By hiring a home inspector, you are sure to get a professional and unbiased appraisal of the condition of the house.

If problems are detected by the inspector, you should discuss with the seller or seller’s agent about whose responsibility recommended repairs are and whether or not they should affect the price. Remember that if the problems are too extensive or more than you want to deal with, most real estate contracts have a clause that will let you out of the deal if the inspection is not satisfactory.

What to Look For in a Home Inspector

When hiring a home inspector, you want to make sure you don’t have someone who is just going to take a quick look around and write down things they’ve noticed. Anybody can do that. Here is what to look for when hiring a home inspector:

  • Report – This is the first and most important question you should ask. When and how will you receive the report? What type of report is used and how long is it? Are pictures and/or diagrams included? Be wary of reports that have a long turnaround time (more than a week) or are too short (ten pages or less).
  • Reviews – Look for reviews and recommendations from people who have used this home inspector before. Use multiple sources including various websites and talking to people who have used them before. If a home inspector has one or two negative reviews, look to see how the problem was resolved and decide if it was handled to your satisfaction. Any more than that and you should look elsewhere.
  • Certifications – A home inspector must be certified to work in the state in which the inspection is being done. Also ask about membership in such organizations as the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors (NACHI), National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI), or the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI).
  • Experience – Most associations require a minimum of 250 inspections before they’ll consider membership, but most pros recommend hiring someone with at least 1,000 inspections and three to five years’ experience.
  • Licensing – Not every state requires that a home inspector be licensed. Any of the home inspectors’ associations should be able to tell you if yours does. If so, write down the entire license number, including any letters before or after. Those letters should help you know if you are dealing with a fully-licensed home inspector, an intern, or an apprentice.
  • Insurance – Your home inspector should carry Errors & Omissions insurance and/or liability insurance. Not all states require this, so check to see if it’s required and if the home inspector has the correct type and amount.
  • Training – In states where no licensing is required, some folks who do home inspections learned while working as a carpenter, an electrician, or some other relevant trade. No matter how involved these trades are, none of them translates to skill as a home inspector. Look for a home inspector who has had formal training.
  • Continued Training – Home inspectors continuously update their training to stay on top of new developments, training, and knowledge. While there is a minimum amount required to renew a license, look for home inspectors who go above and beyond the bare minimum requirement.
  • Length of the Inspection – A good inspection should last about 2 to 4 hours depending on the size of the home. A short inspection time indicates that little more than a glance will be given to each area. A good inspector should ask you to be there for the inspection (though this is not necessary). If they try to dissuade you from being there, find another inspector.
  • Other Qualifications – It is not uncommon for a home inspector offer radon testing as well as home inspection. They may also check for termites and asbestos. Be aware of what other services they may offer and make sure they are properly certified or trained per your state’s requirements.
  • Miscellaneous – If you are working with a multi-inspector team, be sure that the person who comes out to your house has the same credentials as you were told over the phone. Also, make sure the inspector will be available for follow-up questions. Also, some inspectors teach classes in their field. It’s a good sign if the inspector you are looking at also teaches classes.
  • Price – This is actually the last thing you should ask about. Home inspection is one of those things where you get what you pay for. Good inspectors command higher prices. A typical home inspection can cost from $200 to $500.

Keep in mind that home inspectors are not regulated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). As such, be wary of the price that’s too good to be true. They may be the one who’s cutting the most corners. You might save a couple of hundred dollars today but wind up paying thousands of dollars for unexpected repairs tomorrow.

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Questions To Ask When Getting Bids

Because home inspectors are regulated state by state only in regards to being licensed and/or insured, you’ll want to ask questions before you hire one. Buying a home is a big investment, and you’re well within your rights to make sure you are buying a disaster waiting to happen. Here are eight questions you should be ready to ask:

  1. Do you do repairs as well as inspections? Don’t be lured in by someone who offers to repair the things he or she inspects. While this may sound like a great idea on the surface, it’s actually a conflict of interests. An unscrupulous inspector might try to push an unnecessary upgrade disguised as a needed repair. Always make the inspector and the repairman are two different people.
  2. Are you bonded and insured? Anybody who has employees should have insurance for those employees, even if they are the only employee. If the inspector falls through a weak spot while inspecting the attic, they might sue you, the current homeowners, or try to put a lien on the property. Either way, things can wind up affecting everybody involved in the transaction. A home inspector should also have Errors & Omissions insurance in case there’s something significant that gets missed during the inspection.
  3. Do you have references? It is important to check out all references to find out if the inspector arrived on time, did a thorough inspection, provided the report in a timely manner, etc. However, remember that they probably won’t give you references with unsatisfied customers. You will probably only get the people who gave the best reviews. Still, it will give you a chance to see the results of their work.
  4. Can I be there for the inspection? Too many people are content to let the inspector do the job while they go do something else. Being there for the inspection is important. It lets you see for yourself what the inspector is seeing and lets you ask questions and get answers on the spot.
  5. What’s included in the inspection? While the extent of the inspection varies by region (in Florida, for example, they generally test the irrigation systems), some basics should be included. These include:
    • Exterior features (outside walls, soffits, decks, roof, chimney, drainage)
    • Interior items (windows, doors, plumbing, electrical outlets, switches)
    • Heating and cooling systems
    • Checking the attic and crawlspace to make sure they have adequate ventilation and insulation
  6. Can I see a sample inspection report? Seeing a sample inspection report will tell you what sort of communication you can expect. It should be easy to understand. Ideally, it should also include color photographs and diagrams, and the inspector should be willing to explain anything that you may not understand.
  7. Do you have special expertise for my home? All houses are different. Every type of construction has its own trouble spots. Older homes have aging issues and might use construction materials or techniques that aren’t considered safe anymore. New construction uses newer materials and techniques that your inspector should be familiar with if they’ve kept up on their training. A house with a pool will have its own considerations. Make sure your inspector knows about the home’s particulars.
  8. How much do you charge? By making this the last question you ask, you can avoid being swayed early on by a low price. It may be tempting to choose the $150 inspector over the $300 inspector, but be warned, the lower the price, the less thorough of an inspection you can expect.

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What's Included in the Average Home Inspection?

A home inspection is an unbiased look at a house or other construction to let a potential buyer know what the general health is of the property in question. Their primary interest is the structural integrity of the house and its major components such as HVAC systems, outlets, doors, and windows. Some may be qualified to inspect for mold, radon, and other harmful problems. Making sure you know about any potential safety issues will be the inspector’s main concern.


An inspector should look at such things as driveways, sidewalks, steps, windows and doors. The condition of the siding and surface trim as well as the drainage will also be inspected. Attached porches, decks, and balconies should be included in any exterior inspection.

Structural Integrity

The house’s framing and foundation should be inspected for soundness. A badly shifted foundation can lead to a house that is ready to collapse with the next earthquake or big wind storm.


An inspector will look at the roof for signs of wear due to age, the condition of the flashing and shingles or tiles, how well it drains, and any issues with the skylights, gutters, downspouts, and chimneys. An inspector won’t be able to tell you how long your roof will last, only whether or not it has problems that need to be addressed.

Electrical Systems

The condition of the readily-available electrical components will be inspected. “Readily-available” means the parts that can be easily accessed. Service entrance wires, outlets, switches, service panels, breakers, fuses, and disconnects will be inspected for continuity, proper voltage, and other functional components. If a problem is discovered, further inspection and repair would need to be done by a qualified electrician. For example, if a wall-socket is found to be warm or humming, an inspector would make a report of it, but determining why the socket is warm or humming and repairing it would be left to an electrician.

Plumbing Systems

An examination of the water systems of a house includes the water supply, water heaters, drainage, equipment, and any fuel storage systems. Drainage and sump pumps will also be inspected. Low water pressure, rust, corrosion, leaks, and banging pipes can be signs of big troubles coming up.


The heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems will be checked to be sure they are of the correct size and capacity for the house. Chimneys and flues will be inspected for condition and any potential trouble spots noted.


The interior should be inspected for signs of leaks or insect damage. It should also be checked for construction defects and rot. The inspector should also look at:

  • Floors, walls, and ceilings
  • Stairways, banisters, balustrades, and steps
  • Cabinets and counters
  • Garage doors and any associated systems (automatic openers, etc.)


An inspector should make sure that fireplaces have been properly installed. They will inspect the vent and flue for proper function and for anything that could represent a safety issue.

Ventilation and Insulation

The inspector will inspect any visible insulation, such as that found in the attic or crawlspace. They will make sure that it is of the proper rating and is correctly installed and secured.

After all of the above have been thoroughly inspected -- a process that should take about 4 hours depending on the size of the home -- the inspector should prepare a clear, concise report on the conditions of those elements. A good report should exceed ten pages in length for thoroughness and include photographs and diagrams. They may even include suggested repairs and a rough estimate of what the repair should cost. The report should be written in clear language, and if you have any questions the inspector should be ready to answer them for you.

What It Won’t Include

Remember that a home inspector is examining the home for potential safety concerns. They are not inspecting to make sure it’s up to code. This means they won’t:

  • Note that a window is too small for a room.  
  • Open up walls so that ducts & wires will be inspected.
  • Show proof against future problems in the home.

Also, a home inspector is not an appraiser. They won’t tell you what the home should be worth with or without the needed repairs or whether or not you should buy the house.

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Common Issues Found During a Home Inspection

While every house is unique, they can share some common issues. Experienced home inspectors have encountered most, if not all, of these during their careers:

  • Drainage back towards the house – If the ground slopes back towards the house, any water will pool up at the foundation, causing mold and structural issues.
  • Stucco – Properly applied, stucco should last a lifetime. However, improperly applied or cracked stucco can let water in.
  • Roofing – A roof that has not been maintained or that has had improper repairs done can leak. Even if you can’t see it in the ceiling, the rafters and trusses could be rotting or molding.
  • Style vs. material – Inconsistency with the architectural style of the home and the materials used can indicate substandard workmanship and may also be below code. An addition that doesn’t fit the look of the rest of the house should be inspected very carefully.
  • Condition of the electrical system – It isn’t uncommon for older homes to have fewer electrical outlets than newer homes. This is because of the prevalence of electronics in our lives today. As a result, older homes may have extension cords running from room to room or may have additional outlets installed, whether properly or not. Improperly installed outlets are not only a fire hazard, but unless the whole electrical system has been upgraded to handle the increased load, you can look forward to problems at the breaker box. Also, exposed wire is prone to damage and constitutes a hazard both for fire and electrocution. Any electrical repairs should be handled by a licensed electrician.
  • HVAC installations – Some people believe that buying a large heating or air conditioning unit means they’ll be able to easily heat or cool their home. The fact is that an HVAC unit that is too large can be as draining on your bank account as one that is too small. An inspector will let you know if the HVAC is the proper size for the house. Improper installations, poor maintenance, and old components are also spots that can wind up costing you a lot of money.
  • Insulation/Ventilation – Inadequate insulation for your region and poor ventilation can drive up energy costs. It can also severely affect how comfortable you will be in the house.
  • Exterior cracks – Cracks and leaks at windows and other exterior areas of the house can allow water into your walls. This will promote the growth of mold inside your walls.
  • Minor structural damage – Especially in an older house, minor structural damage can go undetected for years. One of the most common things to find is a broken truss. While a single broken truss is not a cause for immediate concern, it will have to be replaced at the earliest possible convenience.
  • Poor maintenance – This is something to look for even in houses not described as “fixer-uppers.” Any house can become damaged simply through occupancy. “It’s not the years, it’s the miles,” goes an old saying. A 100-year-old house that has been meticulously maintained will be in better shape than a 10-year-old house that has been neglected.
  • Environmental hazards – Mold, asbestos, and other hazards could be found during an inspection. If so, ask your inspector about a complete environmental evaluation for your home.

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Historical Issues in Homes

Some issues are more common than others depending on when your house was built. If you house has any of these and they haven’t been a problem yet, it could just be a matter of time:

  • 1900-1950: The old knob and tube wiring has fuses and fuse boxes. While certainly classic-looking, they are not considered capable of handling modern electrical loads.
  • 1930-1950: Homes built during this period might have included insulation with asbestos. This could be considered toxic to your family, so you need to have the insulation tested and removed if needed.
  • 1942-1958: During World War 2, iron was going to the war effort. This made civilian construction developers have to use other materials. Orangeberg sewer piping, made out of papier mache, was the solution. If your house was built during this time, have a sewer pipe camera sent down to inspect it. If it hasn’t failed yet, it’s probably going to soon.
  • Pre-1978: Before 1978, many homes’ walls were covered in lead-based paints. If you buy a home that was built before this year and not updated, you should have the paint tested and corrected if needed. It could be toxic to your family otherwise.
  • 1984-1990: During these years, defective ABS was made by five manufacturers. It was made of recycled plastic and would crack at the joints.
  • 1990-2000: Consolidated Industries (now bankrupt) produced a line of NOx rod furnaces with faulty heat exchangers. Not only could these release carbon monoxide into your house, but they are a fire hazard. Though the units were recalled, not all were sent back.

If you’re not sure when your house was built, numerous real estate websites sometimes have that information. Also, a simple title check through your local city hall can give you all such public information.

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Can I Be There During the Inspection?

Not only can you be there during the inspection, you should be there during the inspection! A house is a major investment, and the inspection is the perfect time to learn all about it inside and out.

How You Benefit

If the average person notices a slight mold growth in a corner in a bathroom, the typical assumption is that the previous tenants didn’t clean well enough. A home inspector might notice that same mold growth and immediately begin questioning the ventilation system for the bathroom. It’s possible that a bad mold problem in the bathroom was cleaned up just prior to the inspection!

By being present, in the above scenario the buyer could ask the inspector about the connection between a little mold and possibly replacing the bathroom ventilation system. The buyer can ask all kinds of questions during the inspection, in fact. Among the questions that might be asked is “How dangerous is this at the moment?” The inspector should be able to tell you if it’s something that can wait a bit or something that needs immediate attention.

Potential Problems & Hazards

While you should be attentive and ask questions during the inspection, you also don’t want to be in the way.

  • If an inspector has someone tagging along for the entire inspection, a 4 hour inspection could easily run into 6 hours.
  • A lot of the inspection will involve the inspector looking quietly at things, concentrating, and evaluating them based on their experience and knowledge. There won’t be a “play-by-play” verbal analysis going on.
  • Also problematic is if the home is currently occupied. You and the inspector could be going through the house and something gets bumped over and broken. Who is liable? You could also ask yourself how comfortable you’d feel with a stranger poking through your house, especially if something winds up missing afterwards.
  • Following the inspector everywhere has its own hazards. If a prospective buyer follows the inspector up to the roof and falls off, who is responsible? Is it the inspector who let the buyer go up there? Is it the current homeowner since it happened on their property? Is it the buyer for going up there in the first place?

When to Show Up For the Inspection

Both agents and inspectors recommend that you find out when the inspector is going to be there and how long the inspection should take. Based on experience, an inspector should be able to give you an idea based on the size of the house and what features it has.

Once you know when the inspection will happen and how long it should take, arrive about an hour before the end of the inspection. This will have been plenty of time for an inspector to have noted most of the issues a house has. They can then point them out to you and answer any questions you might have without you having to stand around and wait for them to decide if something is a problem or not.

Why Should I Be Present If They’re Going to Provide Pictures Anyway?

A picture is worth a thousand words, yes, but there are some things a picture simply can’t convey. A photo of an electrical outlet identified as “warm” or “humming” in the text with a recommendation of immediate repair doesn’t convey the urgency of the situation.

Also, being present allows you to ask about things that may look serious to you but aren’t of any immediate danger to you. For example, you may be concerned about a broken truss. After all, it’s part of what supports the roof! However, a single broken truss, while a valid concern (why did it break?) can sit unnoticed for years without issue. However, once discovered, it can be repaired with relative ease. Unless there is other damage, it generally doesn’t represent an immediate hazard.

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Cost of the Inspection

There is no regulation for the fees of a home inspection. A home inspector can charge whatever the market will bear. However, a home inspection generally costs between $200.00 and $500.00. Nationally, most buyers spend between $265.00 and $369.00 with a national average of $314.00.

When considering a home inspection, also ask about other inspection services. A typical home inspection is concerned with the structural and functional integrity of the house. Other things to look for include radon, asbestos, mold, and lead.


This is a colorless, odorless gas caused by the natural decay of radium in soil, water, and natural gas and second greatest contributor to lung cancer. While home inspection kits are available for around $10.00 plus lab fees, it’s best to have a professional handle the inspection. It costs between $200.00 and $300.00 depending on the region. Mitigation can range from sealing leaks and cracks in pipes and foundations to installing ventilation systems to pump it out. The average costs are between $700 and $3,000.00 depending on the amount of radon and the system used.


This was banned in 1978 as a carcinogenic health hazard. It’s hard to tell if asbestos is present simply by looking at an item. Samples must be sent for testing. Home inspection kits are available for around $10.00 plus lab fees, but it’s best to have the inspection done by a professional. This assures a timely and accurate evaluation of the asbestos levels in the home. The testing alone costs around $700.00 including sampling, air monitoring, and inspection. Mitigation costs such as air filtration and atomizers can cost around $2,000.00.


It can hide in some of the most unlikely places. If the home you are looking at is in a humid environment, you may want to have it inspected for hidden mold. The inspector should be a licensed Industrial Hygienist. The cost to handle a mold issue varies depending on the type of mold and how extensive it is. The cost can run from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. On average the cost for the test is around $564.00.


This was banned in 1978 but, like asbestos, wasn’t necessarily removed from buildings. Replacement is the only way to make sure you are safe from lead poisoning.The average cost for testing for lead is about $324.00. Add to this the cost of any restoration work after the lead has been removed. All of these tests cost money, and the remediation of the problems cost even more. However, these are very important tests that can have a direct impact on your health and your family’s health. For that reason alone, they are well worth every penny.

In Conclusion

A home inspection is not required before a home purchase, but it is strongly advised. If you agree to buy a house without a home inspection, any unseen problems that make themselves apparent become the responsibility of the purchaser. If you do have a home inspection but aren’t present during the inspection, any legal proceedings that come from a hidden situation will be informed that the purchaser was not present during the inspection, and this can cause a case to go against the purchaser.

By foregoing the home inspection you can save yourself hundreds, but can wind up costing yourself thousands.

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