Ok, you've found that perfect house, but you want to make sure it really is perfect (or at least pretty close) and that it won't cost you and arm and leg in repairs right after you move in. At this point in the process you decide that it would be a good idea to hire a home inspection company to give the house a good going over. But what do you know about home inspection or what to look for in a home inspection company? The answer is probably very little if you've never purchased a house before.
Home inspection companies are not equal. I found that in over 16 years of inspecting homes that most people pick the inspection company based on their realtor’s advice. There's nothing wrong with this, after all you've trusted your agent to find your dream home for you, so advising you on an inspection company is not out of the norm. Most agents will give you two or three brochures. Of course you ask the agent, "which one would you use" and of course they will tell you they like ABC Inspection Company. They may even give you some reasons why they like ABC Company. Maybe it's because ABC is the cheapest company or maybe they offer a "Warranty". Before you make your decision based on one person's advice you may want to do a little more homework and ask around. Agents will normally tell you that you have a certain number of days to find an inspection company so you may be nervous you might miss your deadline. So what do most people do? They start calling the inspection companies that the agents gave them. If one does not answer immediately, they hang up and call the next one on the list.
Slow down, you have plenty of time. Don't rush this decision. Remember you're picking an inspection company that is hopefully going to provide you with all the information about the overall condition of your new home so that you can make an informed purchase and not just check off another step of the home purchase process.
That brings us to:
REFERENCES - One excellent way to determine which inspection company to hire is by asking people you trust and respect. Friends and co-workers who have recently purchased a home are an excellent source. Also, mortgage lenders and lawyers will provide you with names of reputable companies that they have worked with in the past. These people are not interested in the sale but only in seeing you get the best service for your money. Check out the other inspection companies for yourself. The internet is another excellent way to obtain the names of some other qualified inspection companies.
The following is a list of areas to also be considered when you get ready to hire an inspection company. This list is a broad overview and not intended to cover every aspect of hiring an inspection company and should only be used as a guideline to help you make an informed decision when you are ready to purchase your new home and hire an inspection company.
WARRANTIES - They may not be all they're cracked up to be. Some inspection companies will offer a "warranty" on certain items such as appliances, water heaters, furnaces, etc. This sounds great and may sway you to go with that inspection company but before you do, ask if there are any limitations to the "warranty". Most inspection companies will exclude any items that are marked as "marginal" or "at design life". Most inspection companies realize that there is really no way to determine or predict the remaining life of a household item and do not offer "warranties". This concept is a marketing tool used purely to entice you to pick one inspection company over another.
COSTS - It has never ceased to amaze me that people who have just spent $100, $200, $300 thousand or even more on their new dream home will chose one inspection company over another for a $25 or $50 difference. Inspection companies who quote a rate for doing your inspection well below the going market price of competitors are usually doing so because they don't have the overhead of their competitors. There's a reason they don't have the overhead. Selecting one of these companies may not be the bargain you expected.
E & O Insurance- It's a good idea to ask if the inspection company is insured with errors and omissions. In Illinois, as an example, inspection companies are not required to carry errors and omissions insurance. If a major problem should arise and you feel the inspection company should have detected the issue, uninsured companies may offer to refund your inspection fee but that may leave you owing a substantial amount of money if it is a major issue and you have to foot the repair bill. Reputable companies that carry insurance will review complaints and if the evidence reveals the claim is warranted, then the company will turn it over to their insurance company, which in turn will determine if the claim is warranted and if so will rectify the situation, usually with a monetary compensation.
EXPERIENCE - Also ask the inspection company how long they have been in business and how many inspections they have performed. Experience is a component of an inspection that you cannot put a price on. When you decide on a doctor to do your surgery, whom do you think you would feel more comfortable with? A doctor with 1, 2, or 3 years of medical practice or a surgeon who's been around for many years and has performed thousands of surgeries. Inspectors learn with every house they inspect, so obviously the more homes they have done the more situations they will have been exposed to, which will most likely make them familiar with construction techniques or common defects and conditions of the homes similar to the one you are considering purchasing.
EQUIPMENT - An overlooked key part of every inspection relates to the equipment used during the course of the inspection. Inspection companies who invest in the most current and highly technical inspection equipment on the market have the means to perform more thorough and in-depth inspections of possible issues that may be overlooked by the companies which are using cheap or out of date technology. Companies that use higher end equipment may charge a little more to help cover the cost of this type of equipment but the benefits outweigh the extra cost. Remember the old adage: You get what you pay for.