Obtaining a thorough and accurate home inspection and inspection report is an important part of the home buying process. Unfortunately, because buying a house is something many homeowners do only once in a decade or so, many home buyers are not familiar with the home inspection process and finding the “right” home inspector may be more difficult than most buyers realize. Additionally, there are many inspection companies and home inspectors with varying degrees of knowledge and experience offering different levels of services at a wide range of prices which can add confusion to the whole process. We hope to clarify the process for you a bit and give you some advice for finding a home inspector who will meet (and hopefully exceed) your expectations.
What to know about general home inspections…
A general home inspection is a visual inspection for defects and safety issues of accessible systems and components. A home inspection is designed to reflect, as accurately as possible, the visible condition of the home at the time of the inspection. While a home inspection will not eliminate your risk of buying a house, a quality inspection and report will give you the information you need to make a sound decision whether to buy a house or not.
Home Inspectors are Generalists
Home inspectors are not experts in every home system but are generalists trained to recognize evidence of potential problems in the different home systems and their major components. Inspectors need to know when a problem is serious enough to recommend a specialist inspection. Recommendations are often made for a qualified contractor, such as a plumber or electrician, and sometimes for a structural engineer.
A “visual” inspection means that a home inspection report is limited to describing conditions in those parts of a home that an inspector can see during the inspection. Obviously, parts of the home that are permanently hidden by wall, ceiling and floor coverings are excluded, but so are parts of the home that were inaccessible during the inspection for some other reason.
Other reasons might include (but are not limited to) lack of an access point, such as a door or hatch, or a locked access point, or because an occupant’s belongings blocked access, or because of dangerous or unsanitary conditions.
Safety can be a matter of perception. Some conditions, such as exposed electrical wiring, are obviously unsafe. Other conditions, such as the presence of mold, aren’t as clear-cut.
In the example of the possible existence of mold, it's difficult to accurately call it out during a general home inspection because mold sometimes grows in places where it can’t be readily seen, such as inside walls, making its discovery beyond the scope of the inspection. Also, the dangers to human health are from the inhalation of spores from indoor air.
Most people with healthy immune systems have little or no problem with inhaling spores. A few people whose immune systems are compromised by lung disease, asthma or allergies can develop serious or even fatal fungal infections from mold spore levels that wouldn’t affect most people. Every home has mold and mold colonies can grow very quickly, given the right conditions. Mold can be a safety concern, but it often isn’t. The dangers represented by mold are a controversial subject. Other potential safety issues also fall into this category.
Although the majority of the inspection is visual, the Florida Standards of Practice do require inspectors to operate some appliances and mechanical equipment, if it can be done safely and without damaging the equipment. Inspectors will also examine the major accessible components of certain systems as required by the Florida Standards of Practice. A home inspection is not technically exhaustive, meaning that systems or components will not be disassembled as part of the inspection.
At the Time of the Inspection
A home inspection is designed to reflect, as accurately as possible, the visible condition of the home at the time of the inspection. Conditions at a home for sale can change radically in only a day or two, so a home inspection is not meant to guarantee what condition a home will be in when the transaction closes. It’s not uncommon for conditions to change between the time of the inspection and the closing date.
How to find a home inspector who will fit your needs…
Consider YOUR needs
Consider how you intend to use the information in the home inspection report prior to shopping around for a home inspector. Once you know YOUR purpose for obtaining a home inspection, you will have a good idea what to look for in a home inspector. As you shop around you will find many home inspectors with varying degrees of knowledge and experience and who provide different levels of services. There is no “one size fits all” home inspector for all potential buyers so make sure what your inspector offers is what you want/need.
Asking your potential home inspector questions is an important step you can take to make sure you are getting the type of inspector you need. Ask as many questions as you need to feel comfortable (or not) with the inspector. Some of the more common questions are as follows:
“How much for a Home Inspection?”
This is typically the first question (and sometimes the only question) many potential buyers ask when shopping around for an inspector. However, it is not the most important question to ask. Many buyers make the mistake of choosing a home inspector based solely on the price of the inspection. Just as you should not buy a “car” based solely on price or even a “hamburger” solely on price (we would all be eating .59 fast food burgers), neither should you decide on an inspector based solely on price. While you need to know the fee for the home inspection, two other important questions should also be asked…
“What does a General Home Inspection include?”
Ask the home inspector which systems and components of the house will be inspected and which will not be inspected. This is where knowing your needs is important. Will a certain concern of yours be addressed during the home inspection or not? If not, share you concerns with the inspector and listen to what he has to say. While not all areas of the house are included in a home inspection, the home inspector may be able to meet your needs by offering ancillary services.
“What are the inspector’s qualifications?”
Ask about the home inspector’s education and experience. In Florida, all home inspectors must be licensed so look at a licensed home inspector as a minimum requirement and not a guarantee of competence. Ask the home inspector about his education, training and experience. Make sure your home inspector is sufficiently qualified to meet your needs.
Review a sample report
One of the best ways to know what to expect from a home inspector is to review a sample home inspection report from the home inspector. A review of the home inspection report will give you an idea of the thoroughness, attention to detail and accuracy of the home inspector. It will be a sample of the final product you will receive from the home inspector. If you are satisfied with the sample home inspection report, you will likely be satisfied with a home inspection from the same home inspector.
Having realistic expectations about a home inspection will put you in the right frame of mind so you can find a home inspector who will meet your needs. Know your purpose for getting a home inspection. Ask your potential home inspector questions. Make sure your licensed home inspector’s education and experience are to your satisfaction. Ask to see a sample home inspection report. Taking these steps will go a long way in helping to find the right home inspector for you.
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