Having a home inspection before you sign the purchase and sale contract on your new condo is a must.
In Massachusetts, someone wishing to become an associate home inspector must assist in at least 25 home inspections, attend classes, and pass a state-administered exam. Someone wishing to become a home inspector must assist in at least 100 home inspections, attend classes, and pass a state-administered exam.
Those are very stringent requirements, at least when compared to what is required in other states.
The Massachusetts state licensing board has more information on this, here.
Of course, you still can’t be assured that the inspector you get is going to do a great job, now, can you?
I suggest asking a trusted friend, colleague, or business associate to refer you to the home inspector he or she used when buying his or her condo. If you are using a buyer’s broker or agent, he or she can also recommend a specific home inspector.
If you decide to just open the yellow pages and pick a home inspector at random, here are some questions you should ask:
10 Questions Buyers Should Ask Home Inspectors
1. Will your inspection meet recognized standards? Ask whether the inspection and the inspection report will meet all state requirements and comply with a well-recognized standard of practice and code of ethics, such as the one adopted by the American Society of Home Inspectors or the National Association of Home Inspectors. Customers can view each groupâ€™s standards of practice and code of ethics online at www.ashi.org or www.nahi.org. ASHIâ€™s Web site also provides a database of state regulations.
[In Massachusetts, I thought every inspector had to be a member of ASHI or NAHI; I’ll find out. In the meantime, when you call the home inspector, ask for proof of membership.]
2. Do you belong to a professional home inspector association? There are many state and national associations for home inspectors, including the two groups mentioned in No. 1. Unfortunately, some groups confer questionable credentials or certifications in return for nothing more than a fee. Insist on members of reputable, nonprofit trade organizations; request to see a membership ID.
[Again, in Massachusetts, I thought every inspector had to be a member of ASHI or NAHI; I’ll find out. In the meantime, when you call the home inspector, ask for proof of membership.]
3. How experienced are you? Ask how long inspectors have been in the profession and how many inspections theyâ€™ve completed. They should provide customer referrals on request. New inspectors also may be highly qualified, but they should describe their training and let you know whether they plan to work with a more experienced partner.
[If the inspector has done 100 inspections, that should be enough experience, in my opinion. Still, it’s worth asking – is he or she fresh out of apprenticeship, or has he or she been at it, for awhile?]
4. How do you keep your expertise up to date? Inspectorsâ€™ commitment to continuing education is a good measure of their professionalism and service. Advanced knowledge is especially important in cases in which a home is older or includes unique elements requiring additional or updated training.
[There are continuing education requirements in order to keep the license current.]
5. Do you focus on residential inspection? Make sure the inspector has training and experience in the unique discipline of home inspection, which is very different from inspecting commercial buildings or a construction site. If your customers are buying a unique property, such as a historic home, they may want to ask whether the inspector has experience with that type of property in particular.
[Ask, ask, ask if the inspector works on single-family homes or condos. You want someone who has done work on condos, especially condos in historic buildings, if that is what you are buying.]
6. Will you offer to do repairs or improvements? Some state laws and trade associations allow the inspector to provide repair work on problems uncovered during the inspection. However, other states and associations forbid it as a conflict of interest. Contact your local ASHI chapter to learn about the rules in your state.
[I believe it is forbidden for the inspector to offer to make repairs and/or to estimate actual dollar amounts of repairs. He or she is an inspector, not a construction worker.]
7. How long will the inspection take? On average, an inspector working alone inspects a typical single-family house in two to three hours; anything significantly less may not be thorough. If your customers are purchasing an especially large property, they may want to ask whether additional inspectors will be brought in.
[Well, this is a tough one. Most condo home inspections should be between one and two hours. Some customers will freak out if it’s only an hour, figuring that they aren’t getting their money’s worth, or that the inspector missed something. Really, though, it shouldn’t take much longer than an hour or two, if it’s a one or two bedroom condo. I had one inspection take three hours. Three. I was crying, the seller’s agent was crying, and my client was crying. The guy was a nutjob.]
8. Whatâ€™s the cost? Costs can vary dramatically, depending on your region, the size and age of the house, and the scope of services. The national average for single-family homes is about $320, but customers with large homes can expect to pay more. Customers should be wary of deals that seem too good to be true.
[It costs around $350 for a condo home inspection. Money well spent.]
9. What type of inspection report do you provide? Ask to see samples to determine whether you will understand the inspector’s reporting style. Also, most inspectors provide their full report within 24 hours of the inspection.
[I am not sure if it’s a legal requirement (I think it is), but you should definitely demand to see written documentation of the entire inspection – most inspectors will give it to you, immediately following the inspection; the inspector may also offer to fax it to you or send it to you in digital form.]
10. Will I be able to attend the inspection? The answer should be yes. A home inspection is a valuable educational opportunity for the buyer. An inspector’s refusal to let the buyer attend should raise a red flag.
[This is a no-brainer. If the inspector says you can’t attend the inspection, hang up on him or her. I mean, really.]
Oh, and question #11 – do you take personal checks and/or credit cards? The inspector will want to be paid immediately, at the home inspection. Remember that.
One other point (if you’re still reading this). The home inspection is your property – the buyer’s. You have no obligation to share the results with the seller. If you should decide to withdraw your offer to purchase the condo, the seller may demand proof that the inspector found significant problems during the inspection. The best thing to do is to show the report, but, really, that’s between you, your agent, and your attorney, I guess.