By Steve Tytler
Question: Our friends recently bought a house and they had a pest inspection done. The person who did the inspection suggested a lot of repairs, which seemed excessive to me.
The same company that did the inspection then turned around and suggested that they do the repair work because they were also in the construction business.
This seems like a conflict of interest to me, especially since other people said the work wasn’t necessary.
Answer: You are absolutely right, that is an obvious conflict of interest, and your friend violated my cardinal rule for hiring a prepurchase home inspector: Never hire an inspector who also works as a contractor.
Such an “inspector” may actually be a salesperson in disguise, trying to drum up repair business for the contractor. That’s why many pest control companies offer “free pest inspections.”
Now, before I get a flood of hate mail from pest control companies, let me point out that it is common practice in that industry for the pest inspector to be the same person who does the pest control work.
I would hope that most of those inspectors are honest and do not recommend unnecessary work. But why take the chance on getting a biased opinion when you can hire an impartial building inspector?
I recommend hiring a professional building inspector who makes a living doing inspections only, not repair or pest control work. Washington state law requires home inspectors to be licensed pest control consultants, so be sure that the license number appears on the inspector’s report.
A good inspector will give you a complete structural report on the house, including a pest and dry rot report.
And because he or she has nothing to gain by recommending repairs, you can be confident that you will not be paying for repairs and/or pest control treatments that you do not really need.
Another reason to hire a full-fledged home inspector rather than a pest inspector is that most “pest” problems cannot be solved by traps or chemical spraying alone.
For example, carpenter ants are everywhere. They will come into your house. They look for wet, unvented wood. If they find it, they stay, and if they don’t, they move on.
You won’t get rid of carpenter ants by simply spraying for them. You must change the conditions that attracted the ants in the first place, such as soil-to-wood contact or a poorly vented crawl space. A good building inspector will spot these problems and recommend permanent solutions.
Here are some other tips for choosing an inspector:
1) Ask how long they have they been in business. Some inspectors claim to have “20-years experience,” but 19 of those years might have been in construction, with only one year of actual experience as an independent home inspector.
2) Get references. Talk to former clients to see if they were satisfied with the inspection report they received. It is not uncommon to hear complaints from unhappy home buyers who discover serious structural defects after moving into a home that was supposedly in “good condition” according to the report from the inspector they had hired.
3) Ask how long the inspection will take. A good, thorough home inspection takes 2 to 3 hours or more, including crawling under the house and getting up on the roof to look for defects not easily detected by buyers walking inside or around the house.
4) Ask what kind of report you will get. Written reports vary from simple checklists to comprehensive narrative essays detailing the home’s problems.
One method isn’t necessarily better than the other, you just want to make sure that the inspector does a thorough job of detailing his or her findings about every facet of the home’s structure and systems.
5) You usually get what you pay for, so don’t automatically pick the least expensive inspector. Expect to pay $300 to $500 for a quality home inspection.
6) Ask if the inspector is a member of a professional association and attends continuing education classes.
This does not necessarily a guarantee a good inspection, but it does show that the inspector has some experience and is making an effort to keep up with changes in the inspection industry.
7) If possible, I strongly encourage you to accompany the inspector during the home inspection to ask questions and to make sure that he or she does a thorough job.
The inspector may point out areas of concern that never occurred to you, and he or she may also relieve your worries about defects that may not be as difficult or expensive to correct as you might imagine.
The bottom line is, always hire an inspector when buying a home. I know that cash is tight when you’re trying to scrape together enough money to cover the down payment and closing costs, but a few hundred dollars spent on an inspection could save you thousands of dollars in unexpected repair expenses down the road.
Steve Tytler is a licensed real estate broker and owner of Best Mortgage. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.