How to choose a home inspector

Wooden toolbox filled with tools

You probably already know that performing an inspection is a critical step to take before you close on a home. Having a complete understanding of a home’s faults is essential to making a smart purchase and protecting your finances.

But how do you find an inspector who is competent, thorough and unbiased? Before you turn to the phone book, consider these three options:

Option 1. Use your real estate agent’s recommendation, but beware conflicts of interest.

If you trust your agent, the fastest and easiest way to choose an inspector is to use the one your agent recommends.

However, if you have reservations about your agent’s integrity -- and if so, why are you still working with them? -- or just want a second opinion, there are other ways to find an inspector.

A conflict of interest can arise when an unscrupulous agent recommends his favorite inspector. An agent who wants to close a deal at any cost may recommend an inspector who won’t be sufficiently thorough or honest in locating and disclosing a home’s faults.

Option 2. Get recommendations from your personal and professional networks.

Do you know anyone who has purchased a home recently? Do you know anyone who knows anyone who has purchased a home recently?

The answer to one of these questions is bound to be “yes.” That buyer probably had a home inspection and can tell you who conducted it. Even a negative review can be helpful by alerting you to avoid a particular inspector.

Option 3. Use a professional inspectors’ association like the ASHI or NAHI.

If you’re starting from scratch, you can use the American Society of Home Inspectors’ search tool to locate inspectors in your area.

If your real estate agent, lender or someone else has suggested an inspector to you, you can also use the tool to search by the inspector’s last name or company name.

The ASHI is a nonprofit, voluntary professional society. All ASHI inspectors have passed a technical exam, and certified ASHI inspectors have performed at least 250 home inspections.

ASHI inspectors are required to adhere to defined standards of practice and a code of ethics.

A similar organization, the National Association of Home Inspectors, also establishes ethics and inspection standards for home inspectors and has a search tool.

Other resources for checking an inspector’s background include the Better Business Bureau, your local department of consumer affairs and your state licensing board (for the few states that license home inspectors).

Before you hire, ask about the inspector’s qualifications and experience -- anyone can lie, of course, but sometimes the way a person answers a question can tip you off.

Check that the inspector carries errors and omissions insurance. If the inspector offers a sample report, review it to make sure it’s thorough and intelligible.

Also, the Federal Housing Administration offers a list of questions to ask a potential home inspector.