This blog was written for Bellingham, Wa. and Whatcom County, but it applies about anywhere.
People, including realtors, often ask what a consumer should look for in a home inspector. Those of us who work in the inspection field as professionals, and also teach home inspection for Bellingham Technical College, are often put in the position to view other inspector's reports -- sometimes as interpretors or advisors if there are disputes. I have gone in crawl spaces after another inspector's inspection, more than a few times, as part of this process. Put simply: We see lots of reports and the variation between them is amazing. Some are excellent and some are sloppy, skimpy and awful. With that in mind, the quick answer, as to whom to hire, is "someone who is qualified, curious by nature, experienced, thorough and can write a meaningful report that a layperson can easily understand".
You get some people with a good background and understanding of houses but they have not mastered spelling or grammar. You might ask to see a sample report: Most of us have sample reports online and a click of the mouse away. In Washington state, add to that list of qualifications the need that the inspector have a license as a structural pest inspector. If the person you contact does not have such a license, then go back to letting your fingers do the walking. State law says that any inspection for a real estate transaction must have an inspection for wood destroying organisms by a state licensed structural pest inspector. A licensed inspector will have passed a test and will meet the state's obligations for financial responsibility. Some working, and typically low budget, inspectors try to skirt this law. If you find someone doing that, he or she is not complying with the law (unless they hire from their own pocketbook, and bring along, a licensed inspector as baggage) and will probably have other policies that shortchange you on the inspection.
Two other things: Cheap is not always best. Often those purchasing an inspection on the telephone will make their decision based on saving $25.00. Most inspectors are fairly competitive in pricing and if you get someone real cheap -- beware. Figure it out. A good inspector is, say $50.00 over the low end. Do the math. If you live in the home only 5 years, that good inspector costs .83 cents per month. That is not much for the high quality inspection that can save you thousands. In fact, often the good inspection saves you money immediately because issues are found that lead to a price reduction or essential repairs are made to the property prior to closing. A final comment regarding instant reports given to you on the site: They are handy if you are down to the wire, as far as needing the report yesterday. But most inspectors, even those who do not offer an instant written report, offer a same day or next day report. It is my experience, having seen both, that the more detailed reports come from the latter. Often, in analyzing site photos and preparing a report at his or her office, an inspector will see more detail, and do additional research, to make sure the report is thorough. That is hard to do with an instant report generated on site and left on site. Most inspectors, even those who do not provide a written report on site will debrief and give an advance report of any complex issues found.
Hope this helps.
Steven L. Smith
Bellingham WA home inspector