Questions You Should Be Asking! Choosing the Right Inspector
Buying a home doesn’t come with a money-back guarantee – and the bigger the investment or decision, the bigger the consequences. Choosing a competent home inspector can be a daunting mission, but with some basic questions – and your best friend, Google – you should be able to find one that’s up to the task. Keep in mind that no one else cares as much about this decision as you do. You’re the one laying out hundreds of thousands of dollars, so it’s up to you to do the homework!
Before we start with the questions you should be asking, let me start with the number one question I get when people enquire about my services: “How much for a home inspection?” I ask a few general questions about location, size, age and condition, and give them the price. They say thanks – and that’s it – conversation over! I’ll ask if they’ve had an inspection before, or if they would like some info on the quality of inspection offered, my credentials, etc. Often, the answer is no – they’re just interested in the price, thanks. And then they wonder why they didn’t get a good inspector! Afterward, they complain loudly to anyone who’ll listen, painting all home inspectors with the same brush, proclaiming we’re all incompetent.
So, although the question of cost is important, it’s the last thing you should ask. And I suggest you begin looking for a home inspector before you go house hunting. Once your offer is accepted, it leaves you little time to do much investigating.
Some important points to consider and questions to ask first:
- Education – What is your educational background? What courses have you taken?
There are a lot of inspectors out there that have never taken a course to learn how to inspect a home properly. There are many more who have just taken a weekend course, and even some who have paid to gain a title that makes them appear to be more experienced than they actually are. I received my training through Fanshawe and Humber, and taken many courses since graduation that deal directly with inspecting houses.
- Experience – How many years have you been a home inspector?
Look for someone who’s been doing this for a while – at least 100 home inspections completed. It takes a few years to accomplish this number, when you’re just starting out. In order to gain some extra experience, I’ve done thousands of energy audits, and obtained my WETT certification (wood-burning systems), so I could offer this service as a bonus to my home inspection clients. I’ve been doing home inspections for 10 years now, with over 500 completed.
- License – Are you a Licensed Home Inspector (LHI)?
Right now in Ontario anyone can call themselves a home inspector. Licensing in the province should be in place within the next year or two – so this will be your first question when this change occurs. All home inspectors will have to be licensed to perform home inspections, making it easier for the consumer to choose one, but remember, you still have to do your homework. Some of the documentation I’ve been reading is saying the guidelines will not be stringent enough, as far as educational requirements and experience.
- Membership – Do you belong to an organization which oversees its members?
Members of the Ontario Association of Home Inspectors (OAHI), of which I am qualified member, adhere to a strict code of ethics and standards of practice, maintaining a high standard of requirement for both education and experience, attend ongoing annual training, are subjected to peer review, and much more. This government-sanctioned organization provides oversight of its members, and demands continued growth in the areas of training and mentorship, with a graduated member system and various levels that can be attained – from Student to Applicant to Associate to Registered Home Inspector (RHI). Right now, the OAHI is the only provincially recognized body of home inspectors, as determined by the Ontario Association of Home Inspectors Act, 1994 – created by Royal Assent on December 9, 1994 in the Ontario Legislature.
- Insurance – Do you carry General Liability and Errors & Omissions insurances to cover you in the case of property damage or missed defects?
This will be one of the requirements, once licensing comes into place. Members of the OAHI must carry a sufficient amount of both types of insurance.
- Length of Inspection – How long will you be in the home?
An inspector should be in the home at least 2 to 3 hours – and possibly more – depending on the age, size, and overall condition of the home being inspected.
- Systems & Components – What will be inspected? What won’t be inspected?
An inspector’s website will often list items inspected – but ask. I inspect the roof system, exterior, structure, heating and cooling, electrical, plumbing, insulation, and the interior. Each of these categories includes many more detailed items to inspect – i.e. on the exterior I’m looking at eavestroughs, downspouts, walls, windows, doors, steps, handrails and guards, decks, patios, balconies, driveways, walkways, garages, retaining walls, grading of the property, large trees in the yard, and more.
The items not inspected are considered to be the limitations of a home inspection. These are the things that cannot be readily seen – for instance, I can’t pull up carpeting or poke into walls, see things below ground, etc.
- Report – How soon will I get the report? How detailed is it? Does the report include photos of the defects found? What format are your reports – binder, online or just a checklist?
A home inspector should have your report to you within 24 hours. I use an electronic reporting system that allows a lot of detail and the photos to be inserted right into the report. Some inspectors hand over a few pages full of checkmarks – not good enough for the type of investment you’re making!
- References – Is the inspector willing to provide references?
It’s a good idea to get referrals from family and friends. And while there are many good realtors out there, I suggest you find an inspector on your own – not one that’s been suggested by anyone who has a vested interest in the outcome of the inspection.
- Attending the Inspection – Can I be present at the inspection?
A good inspector will insist on it! It’s very important to be there to see and hear everything for yourself, ask questions as you go, and understand/learn how to maintain the systems in the home – especially if you’re a first-time homebuyer.
- Price – What is the fee for the inspection?
Now you can ask! For a home of average age, size and condition, most professional inspectors in London and area charge $350.00 and up, plus the HST – report included. When you consider how much you will invest in your home, it’s a relatively inexpensive transaction. There are times (not always) that the inspection report can be used to re-negotiate price if a significant defect is discovered during the course of the inspection, so it’s well worth the cost. You can also choose to walk away from the deal if there are just too many defects found. But again, don’t hire an inspector based on the fee alone. For the sake of saving $25.00 or $50.00 on a six figure investment, you could end up with a bargain of a home inspection, but pay for it 100 times over if something major goes wrong after you take possession. And in response to the people that say it’s too expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur and you’ll soon find out, it might not be the bargain you thought! You really do get what you pay for.
Have a list of questions on hand when you make the call, and don’t be intimidated. A good inspector welcomes questions. If not, move on and find someone who is willing to take the time to answer all of your queries. After your conversation, you should have a good understanding as to whether this person is capable, qualified, and has your best interests at heart. And during the inspection, a good home inspector should be able to communicate in a way that you fully understand any issues, or the significance of any defects within the home. If you don’t understand, ask to have it explained again – but please keep in mind that the home inspector is not there to make your decision for you, and cannot indicate that you should either take or refuse the home. You must consider all the information from the inspection and the report to make an educated decision.
If you have questions after the purchase, I always tell people they can call as many times as they want, for as long as they own their home. And remember, even the best inspectors can miss things, so if you have any issues, call right away. No one is perfect! I prefer to deal with things immediately – don’t wait.