A qualified home inspector is the surest way to discover a house’s not-so-obvious problems.
Most professional inspectors are from some type of construction background, such as engineering, architecture, or contracting. Their responsibility is to crawl beneath the floors, squeeze through the attic, and generally comb the house’s structure and mechanical systems for shortcomings.
They give the buyer a complete report; with this, the buyer can decide whether or not the house is a good deal, or at least put together a “punch list” of items that must be fixed (it isn’t unusual for this report to contain about 50 items). The fee for this service generally runs about $500 and up.
You’re usually welcome to accompany the inspector during the inspection; doing so lets you discuss specifics and ask questions about the severity of some concerns. On the other hand, you probably won’t want to crawl under the floors with him or her, so it’s important to get one you can trust.
You can find house inspectors through the telephone directory or by contacting the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) at (800) 743-ASHI or www.ashi.org. Nationally, over 6,000 inspectors are members of this trade organization, which requires a minimum level of experience for membership. You can also go to InspectAmerica Home Inspections for more information about home inspectors or to HomeAdvisor for a searchable database of contractors. See Get a Pre-Screened Local General Contractor.
Real estate brokers regularly refer house inspectors to clients, but it’s best to ask a non-partial broker for references. Often the best sources for good house inspectors are friends who’ve recently bought houses and believe that their inspectors were honest, thorough, and highly professional.