How to choose a home inspector

Holly Dolezalak
Holly Dolezalak | 5 min. read

Published on August 17, 2015

A top-notch home inspector discovers and helps you understand your properties’ strengths, limitations, and liabilities. With an inspector’s assessment, it’s easier to decide whether a property is worth buying, or when you’re selling, to prepare for any potential objections buyers might have.

But an inspection is only as good as the inspector who carries it out. While finding an inspector isn’t hard, choosing a good one entails doing some basic but essential research.

Steve Quint, an inspector from Minneapolis, Minn., says experience is the biggest differentiating factor when choosing a home inspector. His company, Quint & Associates, inspects commercial and residential properties. Before founding his company, Quint managed corporate real estate for 30 years.

“Based on the size and scope of the property, you want someone with experience in similar properties so you’re getting what you really need,” he says. So if you have a 100-unit apartment building and you’re talking to an inspector who usually inspects smaller buildings or single-family homes, he or she probably isn’t the best fit.

Additionally, Quint explains that inspectors with a background in architecture or engineering will have more construction knowledge and an understanding of the structures and systems they evaluate. Those with real estate management experience will, too, and they’re usually well-versed in the ins and outs of proper building maintenance.

When you find an inspector that’s a good fit for your property, ask what services they provide. Most can do basic inspections, but you may need more specialized services, such as evaluation of environmental issues or thermal imaging to detect electrical hot spots. Look for inspectors who have the right expertise or partner with qualified specialists. And finally, before you make a decision, ask them for a sample report from a property that’s similar to yours.

“My job is to make an inspection as easy as possible,” Quint says. “I’ve had positive relationships with property managers, because we’re both working for the same people and we’re kind of in it together.”

Home inspection checklist

At the minimum, ask an experienced home inspector to review the following:

  1. Structure:
    1. Wall framing and the materials used
    2. Roof (age, layers, and materials)
  2. Foundation:
    1. Type
    2. Condition
    3. Cracks
  3. Exterior:
    1. Stairways
    2. Balconies
    3. Wall finish (materials, condition, earth/siding clearance)
  4. Topography
    1. Grading
    2. Storm water drainage
    3. How water drains from the foundation
  5. Parking lot:
    1. General condition
    2. Size
    3. Spaces
  6. Exterior water:
    1. “Ponding” for the parking lot
    2. Catch basins
    3. Roof drainage (gutters, downspouts, etc.)
  7. Landscaping — maintenance record and materials used
  8. Safety:
    1. Exterior lighting
    2. Parking area lighting
    3. Camera systems
    4. Locks
  9. Signage — overall condition and whether it can be maintained or needs to be replaced
  10. Doors
  11. Window systems
  12. Utilities:
    1. Plumbing, meters
    2. Water heaters
    3. Electricity
    4. Gas, oil, etc.
  13. HVAC equipment and exhaust fans
  14. Fire and life safety:
    1. Sprinklers
    2. Fire extinguishers
    3. Emergency lighting
  15. Elevators, including hydraulics

Additional home inspection tips

Here are some other items to consider asking the inspector to review:

  • Compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) A potential buyer may want to know if any units or the building itself accommodates tenants with disabilities, including wheelchair accessibility
  • Security review — Ask the inspector to look at the building’s camera systems, doors and locks, card readers, and re-key policy.
  • Environmental issues — A potential buyer may want to know about radon, asbestos and the extent to which it’s been abated, and lead-based paint.
  • Electrical hot spots — If there are any concerns about the building’s electrical system, thermal imaging may be necessary to detect hot spots in the electrical infrastructure.

To make the inspection as smooth & fast as possible

Below are some tasks that you can do before the inspector arrives to cut down on how long the inspection will take:

  • Assemble as much general information about the building as possible and what has changed since its construction. “That will point the inspector in the direction of what they should spend more time looking at,” Quint says. Include the following:
    • When the building was constructed
    • Major improvements to the HVAC, hot water, and other building systems, and when they took place
    • When the water heater was last changed or upgraded
    • When the roof was last replaced
    • Other major changes to the building during your ownership
  • Make sure all fire extinguishers are up-to-date and tagged. Extinguishers in common areas need to be inspected and charged annually.
  • Check all building doors and make sure they’re working and that they both close and lock the way they’re supposed to.
  • Clean up the hallways and common areas, and clear away any materials, tools, equipment, or debris in stairways, parking areas, basements, and other ad hoc storage areas.
  • Address any cosmetic exterior problems like peeling paint or chipped or cracked stucco.

Many inspections last two or three hours, but in a larger building, they can take much longer. If you can’t be with the inspector the entire time, make sure to provide them with:

  • Location of common areas
  • Location of mechanical rooms
  • Keys to any locked areas such as:
    • Mechanical rooms
    • Roof and basement access
    • Electrical panels
    • Sample apartments
    • Garden-level apartments (for water intrusion checks)

What tips do you have for choosing the right home inspector? Leave a comment below and let your colleagues know!

Read more on Maintenance & Improvements
Holly Dolezalak

Holly Dolezalek is a freelance writer in Minneapolis. Over the last 15 years, she has covered general business, real estate, finance, and the green economy for local and national business publications.

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