Many times, in the course of reviewing transaction files, I will read that an agent has recommended to the buyer that he or she should have the home inspected by a licensed home inspector. While one has to appreciate the earnestness of such advice, it is nonetheless at least a trifle amusing. This is because there is no licensing of home inspectors here in California. California is one of 21 states that do not regulate home inspection services via some sort of licensing mechanism.
Of all people, real estate agents know that the mere possession of a license is no particular guarantee of service quality. Nonetheless, when there is no licensing of what, to many, would seem a fairly technical business, questions do arise as to how one goes about selecting a practitioner. One approach is to look for some sort of professional validation such as certification.
Indeed, a number of professional liability (Errors and Omissions) insurance companies provide incentives to their real estate customers to use certified home inspectors (or, to do the equivalent, obtain a "certified home inspection"). But then the question arises, "Certified by whom?" In some cases the insurance company may name which certifying organizations are acceptable; but, in others, the choice is left to the agent or broker. The insurance company just wants to know the inspector is certified.
Just as possession of a license to do something is not guarantee of quality, neither is the fact that someone has been certified. There are dozens of organizations that provide certification in the home inspection field, just as there are dozens of organizations that provide certifications in various aspects of the real estate business. (One can only imagine how many real estate agents became "certified short sale specialists" during the past few years.)
Some certifying agencies are undoubtedly quite rigorous and good; others, not so much. (As far as home inspectors go, I am neither qualified nor brave enough to single out here which are the really good ones.)
So what is a real estate agent to do when it comes to choosing or referring a home inspector? (I include choosing because that is often what the client wants and requests.) Obviously, in a state where licensing is required, then a license is a must. Secondly, despite what has been said, an inspector should be sought out who has membership and training through one of the professional societies. (It really doesn't take a whole lot of effort to get an idea of which organizations seem substantial and which appear to be on the fly-by-night side.)
One of the most important things that an agent can do -- that most consumers are just not in a position to do -- is to ask around amongst one's peers. And I don't mean that from the perspective that you want to avoid inspectors who have the reputation of being "deal killers." Sometimes that reputation just means that they are thorough, which, as a fiduciary, is just what you want. (Although, on the other hand, it is perfectly legitimate not to want someone who is a bad communicator or who leans toward negativity.)
There are many specific questions to be asked: "What are their reports like?" "Do they welcome buyers being present at the inspection?" "What is their level of experience?" "Do they carry professional liability (Errors and Omissions) insurance?"
A home inspection is one of the most important parts of a real estate transaction. Not only should agents recommend that buyers obtain one, they should make every effort to see to it that the inspector is really good at what he or she does. After all, you'd rather have the inspector tell you about a defect or problem, than to hear about it, after closing, from the buyer's lawyer.