Why Home Inspections Have Become More Important

Courtesy of the Washington Post

Caveat emptor! These two Latin words — which mean “let the buyer beware” — are taking on added significance in today’s residential real estate market.

Meaning the seller makes virtually no representations as to property condition. Thus, as a savvy home buyer, it is incumbent upon you to insist that your real estate agent include a well-thought-out inspection contingency strategy in your purchase offer and to have your prospective home professionally inspected.

There are several ways of contracting for an inspection. You can insert a clause that permits you to void the contract if you don’t like anything in the inspection report in your sole and absolute discretion. You can insert a clause that permits you to void the contract only if your inspection report reveals a defective condition or building code violation. A third situation is that you may conduct an inspection for informational purposes only. In the last situation, you are required to go to settlement even if your inspection reveals problems.

But whichever clause you use, you are relying on a qualified home inspector to provide you with accurate data regarding your purchase. According to the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), a home inspection is “a documented, professional opinion of a home based on a visual evaluation and operational testing of the home’s systems and components to determine their current condition.” A home inspection should cover at least the following: foundation, walls, roof, insulation, windows, doors, kitchen, bathroom, laundry, water heater, furnace, ventilation, air conditioning, electrical systems, plumbing and outdoor areas.

Hiring a qualified home inspector often starts by getting referrals from real estate agents, loan officers or real estate attorneys. As with all things in life, there are some very good inspectors and some not-so-good inspectors. Prospective home buyers should also check to see whether the inspector is certified, licensed and insured.

At least two national trade organizations accredit home inspectors: the ASHI and theNational Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI). To be accredited by these organizations at the highest level, the home inspector must pass training classes and the National Home Inspection Exam, complete 250 or more fee-paid home inspections and adhere to industry practice and ethical standards.

Virginia and Maryland home inspectors can be licensed. The District has no regulations or licensing requirements for home inspectors. To conduct a home inspection in Maryland, the inspector must have successfully taken at least 72 hours of classroom training from an approved trainer. The inspector must pass the National Home Inspector Examination and must maintain at least $150,000 general liability insurance coverage.

Maryland’s licensing is regulated by its Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation’s Commission of Real Estate Appraisers and Home Inspectors. In Virginia, the licensing system is voluntary, but before inspectors can use the term “certified home inspector,” they must have a high school diploma or equivalent, must have successfully taken 70 hours of classroom training from an approved provider, must have passed the National Home Inspector Exam and carry at least $250,000 in general liability insurance coverage. Additional information can be obtained from the Virginia Department of Occupational and Professional Regulation.