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Buyer Beware – How home inspections are worth their weight in gold

This piece is the first issue of a 12 part series that will take you through each of the homes major system and components, identify time and money saving tips to preserve and enhance the value of your home, as well has many health and safety issues that many may not have every considered before.

Historically speaking buying a home is often considered the smartest financial decision you will every make.  Until fairly recently, homes were bought and sold in “as is” condition until the home inspection industry materialized.  Essentially, a home inspection empowers the potential buyer or seller with important and critical knowledge pertaining to that home. If knowledge is power, then every home that is being offered up for sale or being purchased should have a certified home inspection conducted to empower you with this knowledge before engaging in this very important real estate transaction.


Let’s begin with the role of the home inspector.  Simply put a home inspector’s job is to provide an overall visual inspection of the home and it’s major systems and components. It is a non-evasive, non-destructive inspection process that does not alter the condition of the house.  In many ways, an inspector is like family doctor.  If they find a condition that doesn’t appear right, they may refer you to a specialist for further evaluation/testing and possible treatment.  In extending this analogy to home inspection, if a home inspector observed for example wiring deficiencies at the electrical service panel, then a recommendation could be made in the report to have the electrical system further evaluated by a licensed electrician.

In an era of cost conscience consumers, including a home inspection in the real estate transaction process is not only a smart service to engage, but also a very cost effective means of gather important information about your home.  Consider this, you could hire a master electrician, plumber, structural engineer etc to evaluate your home.  It would take significant time and effort to source out these qualified trades, schedule them within the very short time period of a real estate transaction and at a significant. On the other hand, a typical home inspection conducted by a qualified and certified inspector, who is considered a person of knowledge, would provide an overview of all major systems and components of the home at a cost of approximately $425.  Cost will vary and factors such as size, age, and condition of the house may also impact to home inspection cost.  As you can see the cost of a certified home inspection is virtually insignificant relative to the value of the home being inspected and the knowledge obtained is invaluable.

So what does a home inspection entail and what is produced at the conclusion of the inspection?  Good certified home inspectors follow what is called the “Standards of Practice”.  This outlines in detail all the components included in the inspection as well as exclusions.  It further describes the overall scope and general limitations of any inspection.  All reputable home inspection associations have adopted a Standards of Practice guideline.

As part of a typical inspection it is encouraged that the client walk through the home with the inspector.  Again dependent upon the size, age, and condition of the house, a typical inspection last approximately 3 hours.  A walkthrough with the client in my opinion is the most important and critical element of the inspection because first hand knowledge about the condition of the home is communicated to the client and the client has this wonderful opportunity to ask questions and observe along the way.

At the conclusion of the walk through the inspector completes the inspection report and recaps the findings.  This information should be presented in comprehensive binder that contains not only the inspection report but also some very useful information about basic home constructions, steps you can take to prevent problems, suggestions for developing a schedule of routine maintenance, and equipment that can safeguard your home.

Realizing that a home inspection is a valuable component to any real estate transaction, where can you acquire the services of a home inspector and what are some of the key differentiators between home inspectors?  Sadly, like any major service industry, you have a variety of inspectors with varying degrees of knowledge and expertise but there are several tell tale signs for distinguishing the good ones from the bad.

Most people look at price first.  Unfortunately price is not the preferred way to judge and inspector. However, many people, myself included, truly believe that you get what you pay for.  So, having said that there are many inspectors that will offer an inspection for as little as $199 or less.  Beware of these so-called inspectors.  Reputable inspectors producing quality reports will not normally charge you less than $400.  Anyone charging less then buyer beware, they won’t likely be in the business much longer and the quality of the inspection could be suspect.

Qualifications are what most people should be looking at in determining which home inspector to pursue, but how does one truly know what qualifications to look for.  It is important to note that experience and qualifications are not the same thing.  Someone who has done the same job for 30 years may certainly be experienced, but who’s to say that they’ve been doing it correctly for 30 years and adapting to the changes.  The housing industry has and will continue to change significantly over time.  Changes can come in a variety of forms including, changes in materials, systems, components, design and even building codes (albeit a home inspector is not a code inspector, but a good home inspector who continues to maintain his/her education will be familiar with modern day standards and its applications).

Qualifications should include a balance of both academic and practical experience.  In academic terms, there are a variety of colleges and independent organizations that offer home inspection training programs.  You should be looking at someone with approximately 500 hours of classroom training at a recognized training institution. You can differentiate legitimate training from the rest simply by determining if a major home inspection association recognizes that program.  There are a number of different home inspection associations out there but the ones you may want to seriously consider as the most reputable in Canada include: CAHPI (Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspections), and OAHI (Ontario Association of Home Inspectors. These organizations have fairly rigorous admission requirements and follow a strict code of conduct.  So if the home inspector you are considering are members in good standing with any of these organizations their individual qualifications meet today’s requirements.

Another potential differentiator is the tools an inspector has in his/her arsenal.  Having the right tools for the job is a definite must and although not a requirement under the Standards of Practice, it is comforting to know if your inspector uses certain specialty tools such as a thermal camera, moisture meter, Suretest electrical tester, or a combustible gas meter.  These tools will certainly improve the thoroughness of the inspection.

Finally, and arguable the most important, is finding an inspector that you can talk to and feel comfortable talking to.  Everyone knows how important communication is in all aspects of business, but an inspector that takes the time to empower you with knowledge is worth his/her weight in gold.  Only through clear and open dialogue can the true benefit of an inspection experience be realized.  A truly empowering home inspection experience is ultimately a balance of price, qualifications, tools, and free and unobstructed communication and dialogue.

Thomas Rando is a Registered Home Inspector and President of Clearview Home & Property Inspections.