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Give the professional the once over
Seek referrals for home inspectors from someone you trust, but where applicable, choose a licensed home inspector. A few states license home inspectors and those regulations force inspectors to achieve some level of professionalism either through state sanctioned education, training and tests or through trade group standards and ethics. Otherwise, find an inspector who is a member of a recognized trade group. In both cases, you'll have an avenue for filing a complaint should one arise. Ask to see the inspector's license and/or proof of experience.
Most property inspectors have had years of experience in the construction or other related industries. But, where there are regulatory laws to prevent conflicts of interest, home inspectors are prohibited from performing home improvements, repairs or other work on properties they inspect; from performing inspections on properties in which they have financial interest; and from granting kickbacks to the referring real estate agent, seller or other referral.
Don't choose a home inspector who isn't insured against liability suits or one who limits their liability to the cost of the inspection. Otherwise, if it comes to it, you won't be able to sue them for damage or disputes for more than the money-back guarantees found in some home inspection contracts. Home inspectors who hire others to work with them are legally required to provide workers' compensation coverage.
Ask to see a sample of past inspection reports. If anyone refuses, scratch them off the list. Look for full blown narrative reports rather than simple check lists.
Don't choose a home inspector who doesn't allow you to tag along during the look see.
A home inspection is an opportunity for you to really get to know your home, or the one you are about to buy. While the inspector is making his or her rounds you can learn how to turn off the "mains" to the gas, water and electrical supply to the house in case of an emergency. You can learn what causes all those "bumps in the night". And if you have any questions about the general operation or required maintenance of the home, the inspection period is a good time to ask.
General inspections include the major components of a home and are generally non-intrusive - inspectors won't rip into walls or tear up floors. They only check what they can see.
From the foundation to the rafters, inspectors checks driveways, walkways, curbs and gutters, fencing, siding, windows and doors, flooring, interior rooms, plaster and dry wall, foundations, moisture and site drainage, plumbing and water lines, heating and cooling systems, fireplace, electrical systems and home improvements, especially for signs of work done without a permit.
Home inspectors generally don't check swimming pools and spas, the interior of chimney flues, soils and other areas unless they can prove they are qualified to do so.
A good general inspector is like a general practitioner in the medical profession and will suggest additional inspections if warranted, such as if he or she spots problems beyond his or her scope of expertise.
General inspection resources
Organization Contact Information American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI)
85 West Algonquin Road, Suite 360
Arlington Heights, IL 60005-4423
Fax-On-Demand: (800) 743-2744
Web site: http://www.ashi.com
American Institute of Inspectors
4813 El Camino, Suite C
Carmichael, CA 95608
National Headquarters: (800) 347-2455
24-hr Message Center: (800) 827-5557
Referral service: (800) 309-4663
California Real Estate Inspection Association
450 A St., Second Floor
San Diego, CA 92101
Referral Line: (800) 388-8443
General Number: (619) 239-3080