Q: Home inspections and the inspectors who perform them remain a popular topic for our readers. Last year, we published a column from a woman who wanted to know if it was okay to buy a property that had been updated although the sellers did the work without having pulled the proper permits. We suggested using a professional home inspector to give her a sense of whether the updates had been made properly.

That piece generated a few thoughtful responses from home inspectors, which we published recently. With the spring home-buying market here or around the corner, we thought this reader’s comment might add to the conversation. (His comments have been edited for style, clarity and length.)

Comment: I am a licensed home inspector licensed with 24 years’ experience in the building trades and another 25 years’ experience conducting home inspections.

I found your recent article on home inspections and have some comments on the points raised by the reader who sent the letter to you and some of the answers you gave that reader.

The reader said that “people generally hire home inspectors by word of mouth or advice from friends.” I don’t think this is accurate. In my little corner of the world, most people rely on their real estate agent to recommend an inspector. People ask their agent to make recommendations because they trust the agent (usually), and they know the agent is (or should be) familiar with the inspectors in the area.

This reader mentioned that “very seldom does anyone research the company, their qualifications, their certifications, their past performance, etc.” I know this isn’t accurate. I can tell by the traffic on my website that plenty of people are researching me and my company. I don’t know where a municipal inspector could possibly acquire the data to support this assertion.

The reader also wrote, “I am surprised that more home buyers do not seek out the local building inspector to perform a presale inspection. Maybe the reason is this simple: When an inspector arrives, they recognize the home and [it] may have had past code violations.”

I can think of a few reasons a home buyer wouldn’t want a municipal inspector to perform a home inspection:

  • If municipal inspectors find a violation that they or a co-worker should have seen during a building inspection, would they report it or would they ignore it to avoid making themselves or their co-workers (or their boss) look bad? The municipal inspector might have a conflict of interest.
  • Do municipal inspectors carry errors and omissions insurance and general liability insurance? If not, how do they protect themselves and their clients from an expensive mistake? Home inspectors should have this type of insurance.
  • A municipal inspector is responsible for looking at new work and verifying that it complies with the current building code. Most home inspections involve older homes that were built to a different standard, or perhaps no standard at all. The art of a home inspection is to judge the quality and durability of a home without using an instruction manual, because there isn’t one.

The reader also noted, “You should use a professional, qualified home inspector on a home now and not when building a home.”

Based on my own experience, this is simply bad advice. I have inspected more than 8,000 houses, and one of the worst was a new house with a fresh certificate of occupancy. The garage floor was flat as a billiard table and failed to slope toward a drain or vehicle doorway. You need this slope for spills. The veneer of the home was built straight into the ground and should have had a clearance of at least four inches above the ground with some form of flashing or weep screed for moisture. This home had none of that.

Lastly, the reader commented: “The field of home inspections is an open field. Once it reaches the level where certifications or licenses are required, it can become a consistent inspection process benefiting all buyers and homeowners.”

I think that licensing is the last thing upon which a home buyer should rely when choosing a home inspector. Instead, home buyers should choose a home inspector with years of experience in the building trades and more years of experience inspecting houses. The buyer should ask for copies of recent inspection reports to review. The report should be easy to read, and it should describe the reason for each repair recommendation. If the report is full of disclaimers and recommendations to obtain additional inspections, then the home inspection is of little or no real value.

You should also ask inspectors how much time they will spend on the inspection and report. Do you want the inspector who gets the job done in three hours or less, or the inspector who will spend four hours or more?

You shouldn’t rely too heavily on a friend’s recommendation. Your friend may have met two or three inspectors in his or her lifetime. Instead, ask your real estate agent for a recommendation (and if you don’t trust your agent to judge who are the best inspectors in the area, then you need a new agent).

As to your original article, your advice is sound. Hire a qualified home inspector.

Ilyce Glink is the author of “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask” (4th Edition). She is also the chief executive of Best Money Moves, an app that employers provide to employees to measure and dial down financial stress. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact them through her website, bestmoneymoves.com.

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