Choosing A Home Inspector -- The Bias Delemma

OK, lot's of folks have written about choosing a Home Inspector on the web. Everyone's got an angle. The professional inspection "societies" taunt their particular brand as best (and often slight the other societies). The individual Property Inspection Companies (like ours) also have their slant. Face it, we're all biased by our experiences and our desired ends. I really want you to choose the best Home Inspector for you and there are a lot of good ones out there (Of course, I want you to choose CJR for your inspection, but that's because I'm biased too).

So how am I going to beat back my bias? I'm not sure I can, but let's try it with a hypothetical conversation between my Sister-in-law and I. Beth lives down in North Carolina, she has a contract on a house and she's looking for a good inspector, so she calls me up for advice. I'd do Beth's inspection for free, but I'm not available. Besides there is an ethical issue with a professional home inspector doing inspections for close family (the perception is that I would overstate some items to cause the seller to have to give more to close the deal). Also, a local inspector is more familiar with the types of houses and their problems and warning signs. For a few hundred dollars she'd be better off using someone in her region than getting me for free. Anyway. Let's start the hypothetical conversation...

Chuck: "Beth, the most important thing is to find a home inspector that knows what he or she is looking for and is willing to tell you straight up what is wrong. You don't want an inspector that'll get you all excited about non-problems. That just complicates your decision process. But you REALLY don't want someone that is going to gloss over major problems at the risk of being labeled a 'deal Breaker'."

Beth: "What's a 'Deal Breaker'?"

Chuck: "It's a label that some Realtors put on Home Inspectors that have told their clients things that have caused them not to buy the house."

Beth: "Why does the Home Inspector care what the Realtor thinks?"

Chuck: "That's a good question. Most of us Home Inspectors get most of our business through real-estate agent referrals. Most home-buyers ask their agent for a recommendation (or a short list) for their home inspector. So even though we work for the client, more future work will come from the Realtor than the client."

Beth: "That seems like a conflict of interest."

Chuck: "It can be. A good home inspector has to be willing to loose business for the sake of the client. The client has a lot of money riding on this deal. Good home inspectors serve their clients."

Beth: "So my Realestate agent has given me a couple of home inspectors that she likes. Should I trust her recommendation?"

Chuck: "Most Realtors are good, hardworking, looking out for the client kind of folks. We've heard people say, "Realtors are just looking for someone that won't screw up the deal so the Realtor doesn't loose his/her money." Our experience is that the good Realtors (and many are good) are looking for repeat customers and positive referrals. Just "closing the deal" is a short-sighted view and most really want you to be happy today and for years to come. It's good for business. Chances are your Realtor has tried several inspectors and has a short list of the ones who are good. So does your Realtor have your best interest at heart or is she just trying to get you to closing so she can get her check? Look Beth, you've just spent several weekends (or more) with your Realtor. You've got to make that assessment yourself. Is your Realtor really for you, or does your 'spidey' sense tell you to seek advice elsewhere? If you've got the warm-fuzzy with your Realtor, listen to her advice."

Beth: "My 'Spidey' sense tells me she's a little too slick for my liking. By the way... it's kinda dorkey to say,'Spidey Sense', Chuck. Anyway where should I turn?"

Chuck: "Well if you search the net you'll get a lot of guidance from all kinds of sources. In my experience not all members of Professional Societies (Like ASHI, NaHI, etc) are good inspectors just because they are a member of a particular organization. There's a good inspector in my area who isn't a member of any professional society. We are with ASHI. And, of course we're good [Sorry, beating back that bias]. Just because an inspector has done 2,000 inspections or 20 doesn't in itself make him good or bad. It goes back to my first comment, the most important element is that the inspector knows what he or she is looking for and is willing to tell you straight up what is wrong."

Beth: "OK, great! How am I ever gonna figure that out."

Chuck: "Do you know anybody that has bought several houses over the past few years? You probably have a property investor as a friend or co-worker and don't even know it or someone knows someone who is one. People who buy several houses have been burned by home inspector oversights or at least become very aware of the expense of such oversights. A property investor has probably gone through a couple of inspectors and has found one they really trust. Use that one."

Beth: "OK I'll ask around. Thanks for your help, Chuck."

Chuck: "You bet, if that doesn't work call me tomorrow."

Beth: "Chuck, nobody at work and none of my friends are investors and no one knows anyone who is."

Chuck: "Hmmmm... OK. Have any of your friends purchased a home recently and what did they think about their inspector?"

Beth: "Yea, when I was looking for a property investor several people told me about their inspector. Some said their inspector wasn't very good. Others raved about their's?"

Chuck: "All right. Anybody's name come up on the raving side more than once?"

Beth: "No, but one of my friends raved about an inspector that another was very down on."

Chuck: "That's really the problem with going with a recommendation from someone who has only done one house. One could be thrilled with a so-so inspector because nothing went wrong with their house and another could be disappointed with a great inspector because some things did go wrong. Sometimes, even though the inspector gave recommendations to correct actions that the homeowner didn't follow and is now paying the price."

Beth: "Yea. Admittedly, I have a couple from my inspection in my current house that we decided weren't important enough."

Chuck: "Us Home Inspectors call that "deferred maintenance". $3 today, thousands of dollars tomorrow. But we digress."

Beth: "So what do I do now."

Chuck: "Take all the inspectors that your friends raved about, and call them up and give them a little interview."

Beth: "An interview?"

Chuck: "Yea, call them up and tell them you have to get a home inspection done by whatever date and you're looking for an inspector and why should you choose them."

Beth: "So I'm going to choose someone who can interview well?"

Chuck: "Not exactly. You're looking for someone who can communicate well because they have to translate all that construction jargon into something that makes sense to you. You're also looking for someone who answers the interview questions to your satisfaction."

Beth: "Do you have a list of interview questions and "good" answers?

Chuck: "Yes, go to Home Inspector Interview.

Beth: "Thanks Chuck."

Chuck: "You Bet. Let me know how it turns out."