Dear Ray,

Why is there such a disparity between home inspections, even for the same house? 

For example, two inspections were performed on the same house, but the reports are so dissimilar, you’d think two different houses were inspected. Why? 

— D.L.

First, every home should be inspected during the buying process. For most people, your home is the most important purchase they’ll make in their lifetime. It would be foolish to buy a home without having an expert opinion on its condition. 

As with any profession, you’ll find a wide range of experience among home inspectors. Some are highly skilled, with a broad background from the construction industry, while others have never held a hammer but can name two-dozen types of mold. The diversity of inspectors runs the gamut, from out-of-work construction workers who are embarking on a new career, to seasoned professional engineers who are called upon to evaluate multi-million-dollar investment properties.

With such a diversity of backgrounds among home inspectors, you can expect a similar diversity in their written inspection reports. The challenge for a homebuyer is finding the home inspector who is a good fit for the home they’re buying. 

A referral from friends or family members is one of the best ways to find a home inspector. When you need a dentist, a lawyer or a Realtor, you often ask your friends, family or co-workers for a referral — it’s the same with home inspectors. 

If you know people who recently purchased a home, ask if they have an inspector they would recommend. And ask your Realtor if he or she has a recommendation for a home inspector. Contrary to urban legend, experienced Realtors won’t refer you to an inspector who will minimize any problems. Your Realtor probably knows several inspectors who are in demand because they are highly competent and skilled at communicating with clients.

A subject inspection

The first rule of home inspections: All inspections are subjective — that is, the inspection is an opinion based on the cumulative experience of the inspector. If you have two inspectors looking at the same cracked foundation, you can expect two different opinions about how to fix the problem. One inspector may identify a foundation crack as major structural defect, while another inspector will note that the crack occurred decades ago, and the extent of the damage is limited. (Full disclosure: I purchased a home that had some minor defects. The defects are still there 20 years later.)

Among the most important skills a home inspector needs is the ability to communicate. When interviewing an inspector, be sure to ask if the buyer is invited to follow along and ask questions during the inspection process. I once had an inspector tell me that he wouldn’t respond to any questions during the inspection and that we had to await his written report. That was the first and last time I used that inspector.

In Washington state, home inspectors are licensed and regulated. However, the licensing requirements are minimal, and having a license, by itself, isn’t an indication of competence. Look for an inspector who is associated with a professional organization such as the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). 

ASHI is one of the oldest and most-respected professional associations of home inspectors in North America. ASHI members far exceed the minimum state licensing requirements. The members must perform 245 home inspections, vs. the minimum of five inspections required by the State of Washington for certification. 

ASHI members must also complete more than three times the number of continuing education courses required by the state. To find an ASHI certified home inspector, got to www.ashiww.com/search.php.

You can also investigate home inspectors through the Washington State Department of Licensing, the Better Business Bureau and popular websites like Angie’s List. 

RAY AKERS has been a licensed Realtor for more than 25 years. Send your questions to ray@akerscargill.com or call (206) 722-4444.