Some inspectors are licensed, others are not.

In California, some inspectors are licensed, others are not.

Whether you’re preparing to sell a home or are in contract to purchase real estate in Silicon Valley, you likely will be faced with the prospect of hiring professionals to inspect your home. This can run hundreds of dollars, a thousand dollars or more. The potential liability, though, could be much higher than the cost of paying the professionals to inspect your home, so you’ll want to hire very carefully.

So, what must you know when selecting inspectors in the San Jose & Santa Clara County area?

The Different Types of Inspectors

There are those who focus on particular features of the property, examples being termite or pest inspectors, chimney and masonry specialists, foundation & drainage engineers, pool inspectors, heating & air conditioning and more. Generally, these are all licensed by the state of California, and they may be able to perform repairs on the items they find in need of repair. The two go together – licensing to inspect and being allowed to do repairs.

But this is not true for property or home inspectors. There is no license for doing house, condo, or townhouse inspections in California. Is that good or bad? Part of that package is that they can’t do repairs on problems they find. You can see why it’s good to separate finding problems from being paid to fix them. That’s the plus. There is another side, though.

Finding the Right Home Inspector

The down side to this is that in the San Francisco Bay Area  or anywhere in California, anyone can call herself a home inspector. As with many aspects of real estate, just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s ideal.

There are two trade associations or groups (voluntary) for inspectors in California, both of which uphold a high standard of practice. One is CREIA, a state organization, the California Real Estate Inspection Association.

The other is ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors, a national group with exceedingly high standards (and two levels of membership, ASHI inspectors and “associates” who are on their way to being ASHI inspectors). ASHI inspectors have a higher standard of practice, are extremely experienced and keep current on the latest practices to provide consumers with the best information available.

My impression is that ASHI is a higher standard than CREIA, but either one would be a minimum pre-requesite for most realty agents.

What else should you be concerned with, as a consumer faced with hiring a home inspector?

  • What is the scope of the inspection? Usually, it’s limited to the visible areas – but check – it may vary from one inspector to the next. For instance, are sprinklers or fences included, or just items within the walls of the home? Ask. Obviousy, the inspector cannot see between the walls or inside the concrete of the foundation. All inspections are limited. Some inspectors limit a lot!
  • What is the inspector’s insurance coverage? Ask about malpractice or “errors and ommissions” insurance. Some will limit liability to the cost of the inspection. Others will limit it to $1,000. Inspectors make mistakes, just like the rest of us. What happens if your inspector misses a $5,000 item? Ask.
  • How high-tech is your inspector? Does he or she take photos to show you the areas you cannot easily see, such as under the house or in the attic? Does the inspector use a moisture meter or other devices to help detect issues that aren’t easily seen?
  • How easy is the inspection to read? How comprehensive is it? Some inspectors will not just tell you how things look today, but what the anticipated lifespan is for that item (such as how much longer the roof will last). This can be enormously helpful information to have, but many inspectors don’t include it.
  • How quickly will you get your report after the inspection? In real estate transactions, “time is of the essence”. Getting an inspection within 24 hours can be a big plus!

Finally, how do you choose an inspector if you’ve got several names of ASHI or CREIA inspectors who all seem to be knowledgeable, experienced, communicative, and so on? As with many other aspects of real estate, referrals can be invaluable. Ask successful Silicon Valley Realtors whom they use. Ideally, you want to find the inspector that agents say they hire “for everyone”, both buyers and sellers alike. Those are the inspectors that ought to be fair and honest, who don’t miss anything important but who also don’t create panic. Good inspectors can convey why something’s a problem, how it might be addressed, and put everything in context too.

It should be added that some of the other inspectors, those who are licensed to inspect roofs or chimneys or other elements of the home, may work on commission. Ask about this; clearly it’s a conflict of neutrality if the guy looking at your roof is paid more to find more that’s wrong! And again, ask successful, experienced agents for names of reputable inspectors in any of these industries.

Related topics for further reading:

What to consider when buying a hillside home in Silicon Valley

What happens when inspectors disagree about the property?

This house was ‘termited’ four years ago. Do we need to do it again?

Would you recognize signs of subterranean termites if you saw them?

What is fumigation prep work?

Watch for dampwood termites in Silicon Valley!