Critical Questions to Ask A Building Inspector

An integral part of any purchase process is a building inspection. Whether you are purchasing a residential dwelling or a commercial building, it should be inspected by a professional. A competent inspection should identify any potential problems with the building. More importantly, it will facilitate an informed decision for the buyer. Choosing a qualified and reputable building Inspector is not always an easy task. While there are many people who claim they are “qualified” building Inspectors, the quality of their work varies significantly.

Over the years, I have witnessed a wide range in the quality of work that the Inspectors perform. I cannot emphasize that it is very important for a consumer to complete their own due diligence when they are selecting a building Inspector.

1. Does the Inspector have any Credentials?

Most building Inspectors will gladly extol their membership in an association or provide an acronym as a qualification. I encourage you to visit the web sites of the associations for which they have membership, for several reasons. Verify that the Inspector is a member in good standing. Determine if they have any outstanding claims or complaints against them. Also, visit the web sites of their association to understand the required qualifications. Qualifications amongst associations vary dramatically and there are many associations. For example, the National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI), a US based association offers a Certified Real Estate Inspector (CRI) qualification. If you explore the web site, the CRI qualification is an on-line exam and proof an applicant has completed 250 full, fee-paid home inspections. It sounds impressive, but is there any proof that the person completing the on-line exam is the applying Inspector, or you could ask if any of the 250 “pre-qualification” inspections were audited by the association.

Within Ontario, the Ontario Association of Home Inspectors (OAHI) is the most respected designation. In 1994, OAHI became a self-regulating professional body when it received royal assent from the provincial government to grant OAHI the exclusive right to define qualification requirements, regulate its members and grant the designation Registered Home Inspector(RHI) to qualified practitioners within Ontario. Obtaining the RHI designation requires classroom instruction, exams, an apprentice period, audits of completed inspections and continuing education. Once you have completed your investigations and hired an Inspector, you will likely meet them for the first time at the inspection. Ask for photo and membership ID, so you are assured that the Inspector is the person you vetted and hired.

Please do your homework; it is the best way to ensure how qualified the Inspector actually is.

2. Does the Inspector have Errors and Omissions Insurance?

It may be surprising, but many Inspectors do not have any liability insurance. You should ask questions regarding insurance during your selection or interview process. Ask how much insurance they have, what it covers, what is excluded, etc. Many Inspectors will ask their customers to sign an acknowledgement that limits their liability to the cost of the actual inspection fee. It is also wise to ask to see proof of an insurance policy prior to the start of inspection.

3. How experienced is the Inspector?

Ask how long Inspectors have been in the profession and how many inspections they’ve completed. Ask about their formal training, their previous work experience and ask them to provide some customer referrals. New Inspectors also may be highly qualified, but they should describe their training and should have completed some type of apprentice training with a more experienced and credible partner.

4. How does the Inspector keep their expertise up to date?

Inspectors’ commitment to continuing education is a good measure of their professionalism and service. Advanced technical knowledge is especially important in cases in which a home is older or includes unique elements requiring additional or updated training. Some Inspectors will only work on residential buildings, while others specialize in commercial buildings. Either way continuing education is necessary to keep up with modern materials, equipment and construction.

5. Does the Inspector specialize in residential or commercial building inspections?

Make sure the Inspector has training and experience in the unique discipline of home inspection, which is very different from inspecting commercial buildings. On residential inspections, expertise can include new construction, rural dwellings or century homes. If you are buying a unique property, such as a historic home, you may want to ask whether the Inspector has experience with that particular type of building. Inspections on rural dwellings and century homes definitely require different and specialized knowledge, skills, training and related experience than is required for a newer urban dwelling. Ask the Inspector if they have a specialty.

6. Will the Inspector offer to complete repairs or improvements?

Some provincial laws and industry associations allow the Inspector to provide repair work on problems discovered during the inspection. For many associations and consumers, this is a conflict of interest. During the hiring process, ask their practice or opinion about this, it may help you to choose an Inspector.

7. How long will the inspection take?

On average, an Inspector working alone inspects a typical single-family house in two to three hours, depending on the size of the dwelling and whether it has a finished basement.  Even on a very small residential dwelling, less than ninety minutes may not be thorough. Ask how long the inspection should take amongst the prospective hires. Also ask how many inspections they perform each day. Many Inspectors will not be willing to complete more than three jobs during a day because the process is too exhaustive.

The number of questions a buyer asks during the actual inspection can lengthen the time the actual process takes. There is a balance between asking questions during an inspection and allowing the Inspector to focus on his work. Good Inspectors have a methodical approach and perform each inspection in a very systematic fashion. If you are purchasing an especially large dwelling or a commercial building, you may want to ask whether additional Inspectors will be brought in.

8. What is the cost?

Costs can vary dramatically, depending on your region, the size and age of the house, or if it has a basement apartment, as well as the scope of services required. The national average for single-family homes is about $375, but customers with large homes or dwellings with multiple living areas can expect to pay more. Customers should always be wary of deals that seem too good to be true. In many cases you may discover that there is a correlation between the price and the time an Inspector will take to complete their work.  

9. What type of inspection report do they provide?

Ask to see samples to determine whether you will understand the Inspector's reporting style. Determine if enough detail is provided. Some reports offer few details, or give vague ratings such as pass or fail. Many Inspectors provide their full report immediately after the inspection, while some prepare it and meet again perhaps a day after the inspection. Ask if photographs will be taken by the Inspector and if they are integrated into the report.

Ask whether the inspection and their accompanying reports meet any provincial or related government agency requirements. This may be especially true for commercial buildings that require more specialized inspections or tests. In some cases, there may be specific reports required for insurance or mortgage financing. Examples could include air quality, UFFI, HVAC, etc.

10. Will you be able to attend the inspection?

The answer should definitely be yes. A home inspection is a valuable educational opportunity for the buyer. An Inspector's refusal to let the buyer attend should raise a red flag. The point of an inspection is to provide a buyer with the insight of a professional third party. Questions regarding maintenance, lifespan and construction are vital for the future owner so that they can better understand what they are buying. Every building reflects the construction codes, techniques and designs that were common during the year in which they were built.  Obtaining an understanding of the quality and fitness of a building is critical for a buyer to either complete a purchase or to terminate it.