You need to know a great deal about your house when you sell it, usually more than the average seller knows or wants to know. So, how do you handle disclosure without spending the next six months learning about construction? Many sellers use an inspector. The inspector solves a whole series of problems. If the inspector you use is bonded, and a problem arises after the sale, it is easy enough to say to the buyers, "I didn't know there was a problem. I had the house inspected and I trusted the work of the inspector. Blame the inspector."
That, of course, does not get you off the hook, but it does help things. In addition, if there are damages to be paid and the inspector is to blame and is bonded, the inspector may have to pay them instead of you. Thus, using an inspector can be very worthwhile.
FINDING A REPUTABLE HOME INSPECTOR
Almost anyone can inspect a house, but that does not mean they are qualified. In recent years, contractors without enough work have taken on home inspection to supplement their income. A home inspection usually costs between $250 to $400. A contractor can walk through your house, check little boxes on a form, and charge you several hundred dollars for a few hours work. But are contractors qualified? Some are and some definitely are not. A contractor who builds new homes may know very little about older homes. A plumbing contractor doesn't necessarily know about electrical needs. A cement contractor probably is not an expert on roofs. The value of their inspection is questionable at best.
The real problem is that home inspections are relatively new. In a few years, states will undoubtedly begin licensing and testing home inspectors. But as of now, few states are doing this, so sellers are on their own. One way of qualifying a potential inspector is to insist that he be a member of ASHI. This is the American Society of Home Inspectors. It is a trade organization that has been endeavoring to raise the standards of home inspectors overall. ASHI sets standards for inspectors and makes an effort to see that its membership follows those standards. ASHI, however, does not require its members to be contractors. Having a contractor license does not necessarily qualify someone to be a home inspector. For more information about ASHI, you can contact the organization at Suite 630, 1010 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C., 20007. Their telephone number is (202) 842-3096.
Beware of contractors who offer to do a home inspection for a nominal fee, then find something wrong and offer to fix it, usually for a high fee. Some unscrupulous contractors have been using home inspection as a way of procuring business. A good rule of thumb is to never have the person do the work who does the inspection. Also, don't ask the inspector to refer you to someone. That someone could be the inspector's brother-in-law or sister who is on the team.
Always insist on getting a written report from an inspector. An oral report is useless to you if there should be a problem from the buyer later. When problems occur, everyone seems to remember things differently. You may say the inspector told you the house was perfect, but the inspector may say that the defects that the buyer is now complaining about were disclosed in the inspection. Get it in writing.
This is just a quick note to point out that termite inspections are not really a new part of the home inspection process. Lenders have been requiring termite inspections as a condition for approving a new home loan for decades. A termite inspection and the repair of damages has been a requirement of home sales almost as long. In almost all states, termite inspectors are licensed, and their written reports are required to be registered.