You wouldn't hire a private eye when you need to call 911 -- well unless perhaps you are the lead in a major motion picture -- so don't hire a contractor when you need a professional home inspector.
That's the sage advice of the California Real Estate Inspection Association (CREIA) --- garden variety contractors just don't have the 411 to cut it as 24-7 home inspectors --- unless they've been schooled in unique inspection techniques, says CREIA.
Much like forensic detectives who learn to see what others might miss, home inspectors are trained to zero in on evidence of deterioration and wear that can affect the structure and integrity of a home and its mechanics.
"The misconception that construction experience is the only background needed to perform a quality home inspection is a common mistake. This oversight has led many consumers to encounter costly and protracted nightmares," says the association.
While construction knowledge is a good foundation for home inspection training, a working knowledge of numerous disciplines, building, plumbing, mechanical, electrical and fire safety codes past and present are essential should an inspector be required to inspect a newer home or an older one. Both can yield defects, but not always to the untrained eye.
CREIA says an acute sense of observation to identify subtle defects that could present greater potential problems is a skill developed only through years of attention to the details.
It's also generally not a good idea to hire a contractor as an inspector who my want to bid on any work he or she might find. Therein lies a bad MO -- an inherent conflict of interest. A perp you don't want in your home.
Instead, you need an impartial, physical evaluation of the overall condition of the home and identification of items in disrepair skillfully ferreted out.
A good inspection report should be a solid narrative (not unlike those in good private-eye novel) with detailed information about the condition of the structural components, exterior, roofing, plumbing, electrical, heating, insulation and ventilation, air conditioning and interiors.
CREIA suggests hiring a by-the-book, association certified or -- in states where applicable -- a licensed inspector who has been industry trained and field tested. CREIA and the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) are common sources of such professionals.
Get referrals from family, friends, co-workers and others you trust. Interview several inspectors to see who passes muster.
Lock down proof of certification or a license.
Inspectors typically must pass a written test of property systems and complete two dozen or more hours of education each year to keep abreast of changing conditions that affect their work in order got get and keep their badges.