Inspecting the Inspectors

Your clients rely on your expertise when it comes to preparing for property inspections. Here are nine key points to evaluate when compiling your list of recommended professionals.

May 2, 2015

Mold and rot eating away at supporting beams, problems with the electrical system, plumbing issues... It’s the stuff of nightmares, but for many home owners, it’s a reality. Sometimes, undetected damage can be dangerous. Did you hear the one about the buyer who fell through the floor on move-in day when the rotting surface collapsed?

Fortunately, a thorough home inspection can help to uncover hidden damage and shine some light on potentially costly future repairs. But home inspections aren’t just completed to keep the buyer safe — they can help to protect the real estate professional too. Informed buyers are more likely to be satisfied with their purchase and, as a result, they’ll be far less likely to come back to haunt you after the sale closes. If you’re like most agents, much of your business is based on referrals. A satisfied client who feels dealt with honestly and fairly will be far more likely to send others to you, even if in the end they decided not to go through with the sale.

Smart real estate agents know the importance of maintaining a list of qualified home inspectors to give to clients who ask. Having some “pre-inspected inspectors” on hand is an excellent way to help ensure that your clients will be happy with their purchase.

But how do you compile this list? Make sure the inspectors that you recommend are professional and qualified, will do a thorough job, and won’t be afraid to crawl under the house to make sure the floor isn’t about to cave in! Here are nine questions that can help you to thoroughly evaluate a home inspector.

1. Are You Licensed?

A handful of states don’t have any licensing requirements at all, so it’s worth checking to see if your state requires licensing. If there are no licensing requirements, you’ll want to spend some more time looking closely at other qualifications, including training and experience.

2. Which Professional Associations Do You Belong To?

Affiliation with a national or state association of home inspectors isn’t a guarantee of professionalism, but it’s certainly a good sign. These associations often require that members keep up-to-date with training and certification. Reputable groups to look for include the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) and the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI).

3. What Are Your Credentials?

Read up on the home inspector’s qualifications, and find out where they received their training. There are a number of professional organizations that provide credentials, including ASHI and NAHI. Watch out for those who claim a “company certification,” or any type of “in-house accreditation system” that’s not subject to overriding industry standards.

4. How Much Experience Do You Have?

The NAHI and ASHI require a minimum of 250 inspections. It’s important to note though, that many industry professionals say that finding someone who has performed at least 1,000 inspections and has three to five years of full-time experience is important. When browsing the home inspector’s website, watch out for wording designed to make it look like they have more experience than they actually do. Remember, “industry experience” doesn’t necessarily mean experience actually inspecting homes.

5. Are You Insured?

Even the best inspectors can make mistakes. It’s important to ask for proof of insurance for both errors and omissions and general liability. Always avoid inspectors who aren’t insured, and watch out for inspectors who severely limit their liability coverage. Some inspectors will only reimburse the customer for the cost of the inspection.

6. What’s Your Policy?

Ask about their policy involving problems that should have been picked up on in the inspection. Does the inspector stand by the report? Do they offer any guarantees? Some home inspectors offer optional 90-day warranties that will help cover repairs or replacement costs. Be sure to check into such offers, paying special attention to the fine print and exclusions.

7. What Are Your Customers Saying?

Head online to see what their past clients are saying. Many home inspectors have client reviews on websites such as Angie’s List, Yelp, and Google Plus. You can also check the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints made against the inspector.

8. Are You Able to Provide a Sample Inspection Report?

This will help you to gauge how thorough their inspections will be. Most reputable home inspectors will be more than happy to provide you with one if they don’t already have one proudly displayed on their website. A home inspection report should look something like this.

9. How Long Will Your Inspection Take?

Often, you can evaluate the diligence of an inspection by how long it takes. According to ASHI, a home inspection can take two to four hours or longer, depending upon the size of the home. Specific guidelines governing what must be examined during home inspections exist in only around half the states in this country. Watch out for inspectors who offer “specials” for one-hour inspections—anything less than two hours may be an indicator of a less-than-thorough job.

Also, it’s a good idea to maintain a full list of recommended inspectors, rather than just one or two. This approach drastically reduces your risk of liability and provides your clients with the opportunity to choose their own inspector. Real estate law professionals recommend avoiding verbal referrals whenever possible, instead providing clients with a written list of three to five service providers.

By taking the time to compile a list of inspectors, you’ll be doing your clients a tremendous service and providing them with a valuable resource. You’ll also be establishing yourself as someone who can connect clients with professional help throughout the real estate transaction.

Brenton Hayden is the founder and chairman of the board of Renters Warehouse. A Harvard Business School and MIT Sloan School of Business graduate, Brenton leads a team of over 140 employees and franchises in 21 states with a portfolio of managed properties valued at just under $1 billion.