If you’re buying a house, this expert advice will help you find a qualified home inspector you can trust. 

Because a house is likely to be your highest-ticket purchase, it’s wise to know what you’re getting before you buy a home. How can you be sure it is sound and doesn’t have major problems? The answer is simple: Hire a home inspector to give you a thorough report about its condition.

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A home inspector typically costs from $300 to $600, depending upon local rates and the nature of the house. Though this may sound like a lot of money to spend without knowing whether you’ll buy a house for sure, consider the potential cost of owning a house that has serious problems with its structure or systems. A good home inspector can keep you from buying a money pit.

Unfortunately, not all home inspectors are good ones, and a few may be downright unethical. If you hire a home inspector who fails to find serious problems—or worse, finds them but doesn’t disclose them—the house you purchase could end up costing you a fortune in repairs and improvements.

Hiring an inspector who is qualified, honest and fair is critically important. Here are five tips to help you hire the right home inspector:

Choose an Inspector Who Is Neutral

Unfortunately, the method that many people use to find a home inspector—asking their real estate agent who to call—can lead to hiring a person who may have an incentive to under-report issues.

A good real estate agent, when shepherding the many activities involved in a homebuyer’s purchase of a home, often recommends an inspector with whom they’ve worked before. This is natural. The purchase deal is usually in play with a 24-hour ticking clock. The buyer needs to get the inspection done quickly or the deal may fall apart.

But here’s the problem: If you hire an inspector who relies upon your real estate agent’s referrals for regular business, the inspector might play-down or overlook some issues in order to help your agent close the deal—otherwise they might not get called next time. This isn’t to say that the inspector may let major issues slide—they’d be crazy to risk getting sued by you. But their report might be a little soft. You need just the opposite—for them to be brutal. You should know everything that isn’t right with the house because you may end up paying to fix all of those problems in the future.

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Find a Home Inspector Who Is Certified

Hire someone who is a certified member of a trade association, such as the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) or the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (interNACHI). Being a certified member of one of these means the inspector is serious about his or her business, has gone through a testing and certification process, stays up-to-date with continuing education and adheres to a code of standards.

These organizations are happy to help you find local inspectors who are among their membership. On the organizations’ Web sites, they offer geographical search functions.

When vetting your prospects, you can also check online review sites, such as Yelp, Angie’s List and Google for customer reviews.

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Pay Attention to Qualifications

Being dubbed a “home inspector” doesn’t mean a person is qualified to be one. The experience needed to call oneself a home inspector varies from one state to the next—in fact, some states don’t require any background or training at all.

When calling a potential candidate, ask what his or her qualifying background is. How long have they been doing full-time inspection work? How many houses have they inspected? If they claim to have a certification or license, ask them to bring a copy when you meet.

Deep knowledge about house structure, plumbing, electrical, drainage and more is critical to an inspector’s ability to find problems. Candidates with strong experience in the home trades, such as former general contractors, are typically the most qualified.

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Understand the Actual Cost

Negotiate a fee and be clear about exactly what will and won’t be included in this fee. A home inspector should go into every part of the house and garage where there is reasonable access, including the basement, crawlspace and attic. He or she should check the electrical and plumbing systems, evaluate the structure including the foundation and framing, inspect the roofing and siding, search for defects and hazards and much more.

Eventually, you may need to hire additional experts for reports on mold, termites, radon, asbestos, lead-based paints or septic systems because most home inspectors don’t include these inspections as part of their service. Be sure a list that details exactly what will or won’t be inspected is articulated in the contract.

Request a sample inspection report. It should be well organized and easy to understand. It should point out problems, explain why these issues are problems and suggest necessary repairs. Most reports don’t offer cost estimates for repairs.

Be aware that an inspection is intended to report the condition of a house on the day that it is inspected. It points out issues that could impact the value of the property or present a significant risk. It is not intended to tell you how long parts of a house will last.

Ask how soon you will receive the report following the inspection: within 24 hours is typical.

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Check Insurance Coverage

Your inspector should have general liability (GL) insurance that covers bodily injury and property damage, including any damage that may be caused during an inspection. In addition, an inspector should have errors and omissions (E&O) insurance that pays for losses incurred if he or she fails to report serious issues, as well as coverage for bodily injury or property damage that could occur because of an error or omission. Ask for a copy of the inspector’s insurance.

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Final Thoughts

Plan to be present during the inspection so nothing is overlooked or skipped and so the inspector can clarify issues with you.

You should receive the inspector’s report within the agreed-upon time. Based upon the findings of this report, you can discuss with your real estate agent whether to modify your purchase offer based upon the extent of work that would be required to make the house safe and sound.

NEXT SEE: Home Inspection Checklist: 10 Things to Inspect Yourself


This article, by Don Vandervort, originally appeared at USNews.com

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About Don Vandervort
An avid builder and remodeler, Don Vandervort has developed his expertise for more than 30 years, as Building Editor for Sunset Books, Senior Editor at Home Magazine, author of more than 30 home improvement books, and writer of countless magazine articles. He appeared for 3 seasons on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert for several years. Don founded HomeTips in 1996. Read more about Don Vandervort