How to Choose a Home Inspector

There are huge differences between home inspectors. Like all professions or trades, the majority are rather mediocre. A small percentage are spectacularly bad. An even smaller percentage is very, very good. You want one of the good ones. Your home is often the largest investment of your life. Take some time to make sure you are hiring someone you can trust to do an excellent job and to look out for your interests above all others.

A referral from a friend or coworker is a good place to start. But you should still do a little more homework before choosing an inspector.

The majority of homebuyers rely on their real estate agent for a referral to an inspector, but there’s an inherent conflict of interest present. Here’s a dirty little secret. Many home inspectors are dependent upon agent referrals to stay in business. As a result, they tend to minimize defects to keep the referring agents happy. Obviously, this is not in your best interest.

Many agents categorize inspectors into three groups:

  1. The inspectors they recommend when it’s their listing. These are the guys with poor eyesight and dull pencils.
  2. The inspectors they recommend when they’re acting as buyer’s agents.
  3. The inspectors they recommend to their family relatives. This is the inspector you want. He’s the one they NEVER recommend, except when a friend or relative is buying a home.


I’m the third kind of inspector. This may be the only business where the referring marketplace punishes those who do the best job!

Of course, not every agent is waiting to take advantage of you, there are certainly ethical agents who want their clients to get the best inspection possible. If you are comfortable with your agent, by all means, listen to their advice. But you still might want to use the following list of questions to make sure you’re making the right decision.

Here’s a list of questions you can use to make sure you are hiring a qualified home inspector:

How long have you been in business?

Experience counts in this business. There is no substitute. Don’t hire anyone who’s been in business for less than five years. On the other hand, there are inspectors who have been around for years who do a crummy job. With no training and no continuing education, they often don’t realize how sub-standard they are.

Are you licensed in Illinois as a home inspector?

If your state requires licensing, this is a no-brainer. There are inspectors out there operating illegally.

Do you have any formal training?

The majority of home inspectors don’t. Most of us get formal training at weekend seminars or conferences. Good home inspectors sit through more than 50 hours of educational sessions each year.

What did you do before you got into the inspection business?

A background in construction or engineering is preferable. The more experience your inspector has, the better. Avoid someone who was selling shoes last year.

Will you be doing my inspection personally?

Make sure you know who will be doing your inspection. You want the boss, not a trainee.

What Associations do you belong to?

If your home inspector doesn’t belong to a couple of home inspection associations, he’s operating in his own little world of limited knowledge and experience. I am a member of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors. ASHI is the oldest professional home inspection organizations, recognized by HUD and the National Association of Realtors.

Don’t be confused by “certifications”.  If you want to understand what “Certifications” actually mean, go here and read up….

Or here….

What Standard of Practice do you use for inspecting?

If you are working in Illinois, you must write a report conforming with the Standards of Practice for Home Inspectors in the State of Illinois. The standards are available on the “Documents and Downloads” page.

How long will the inspection take?

There’s no one right answer to this question. Each inspection is different. Older or larger homes take longer. Homes on slabs are easier than homes with crawl spaces. At a minimum, any home will take 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours of time to perform the inspection and write the report. We sometimes spend 5 or 6 hours on a larger or older home.

Can I attend the inspection with you?

Make sure your inspector allows you to attend the inspection. If not, be wary. Being at the inspection and seeing the problems will greatly increase your understanding of the problems.

Do you carry insurance?

Most real estate contracts make the buyer liable for any damage done by the inspector. Make sure he carries liability insurance.

Can I see a sample report?

Looking at a sample report is the single best method of comparing home inspectors. Much of what we do involves written communication. The report is the work product of the inspector. Make sure it’s in a well-organized format you can understand. Be sure it all makes sense. If the inspector is reluctant to show you a sample of his work, run.

Do you take photographs?

The most advanced inspectors take digital photos if there are significant or complex components that require documentation. Photos make it easier for everyone to understand the problem. Especially when the problem is where you can’t get to it. Like the roof or the crawl space.

What percentage of your business comes from Real Estate Agents?

Be wary of anyone who receives more than half of their referrals from agents. They may be worrying about the next referral more than they are worried about your new home.

How much do you charge?

Fees vary widely. You’ll find that inspectors who have been around a long time and do a good job tend to charge more. It’s like anything else. You get what you pay for. In fact, you can probably judge the skill level of the inspector by the price he charges. And in this case, you want the best, not the cheapest. Most real estate contracts require the seller to repair defects found during the inspection. Missing even one of these defects will end up costing you money. Need more convincing?

We recommend you print and save this page to assist you in selecting a competent home inspector.