A Savvy Home Inspector Is an Investor’s Best Ally: Here’s What to Look For

by | BiggerPockets.com

A home inspector is a licensed professional who has expertise in electrical, mechanical, structural, and plumbing systems. They are not experts in every field, but they do understand how the systems work and know how to find problems.

Believe it or not, there are a lot of states that don’t have laws or even requirements for home inspectors. Anyone who can create a business card can start inspecting. In these states you want to make sure the home inspector at least has a certification by a professional organization such as NAHI, NACHI,  AHIT, Kaplan, or ICA. And just because a home inspector has a construction contractor’s license doesn’t mean they have the knowledge to inspect the other components of a property.

What to Look for in a Good Home Inspector

Credentials. Do they just have a general education/license and have they taken advanced courses and extra certifications that may be a benefit to you?

Ask to see a previous inspection report. Some inspectors, instead of providing information about a problem, will simply say “consult with an electrician.” That doesn’t help you. This is what the discount home inspectors do.

Related: 8 Common Questions Investors Have About Home Inspections – Answered!

Find someone who can do other inspections (i.e. lead paint, lead in water, sewer lines, pest, dry rot, radon gas or septic). When you have a short amount of time to get through inspections, you may not have time to set up another appointment to get those inspections done.

Read reviews about the home inspector. There are a lot of home inspectors who will not go in attics, under houses, or on roofs where most problems are visible.

You want someone who will take the time to show you the problems and even offer suggestions on how to fix them yourself. Ask your real estate agent or read reviews on the home inspector.

Find an inspector who can do infrared photography. This will help you identify moisture and electrical problems behind walls that are not visible to the naked eye. 

Added Benefits of Home Inspectors

If you’re taking on a 30-year loan and a 20% downpayment, a $300-$800 inspection is well worth the investment. Having a third party person produce a report outlining the problems with a property is not only good information for you, but it can save you money on the purchase.

Getting Repairs Done and/or Saving Money on the Purchase

In almost every state, there are laws that require to sellers to disclose known defects in the property they are selling. A home inspector (neutral third party) will find the defects and put it in a report for you. You can then send that report to the seller or the seller’s real estate agent so they know about the defects and now have to disclose them to everyone who wants to buy the property. If you ask for a reduced price or ask for them to make repairs they will be stuck because they have to tell the next buyers the problem, and they will likely end up with the same results. Oftentimes sellers will relent and do the repairs or drop the price of the house.

A Word of Caution

Don’t get the cheapest inspector. There are some home inspection companies that will send out inexperienced inspectors and tell them to write, “We suggest hiring an electrician to evaluate the electrical panel” instead of giving you advice and being able to point out the problem. That doesn’t do you any good. You want an experienced inspector who can tell you what’s wrong and have an idea of what it costs to fix.

What a Home Inspection is Not

A home inspection is a visual inspection. The inspectors will not take apart heaters or fridges. They only test them to see if they are working at the time of purchase. Here is a guide to what inspectors are required to do.

Tips on Using Home Inspectors to Your Advantage

My favorite home inspector is the most detailed-oriented person I’ve met. He has a Master’s degree from Harvard (there are some great inspectors out there). He will find every scratch and little thing wrong with a house and include it in the report with pictures. The more things he finds, the more likely you are to get repairs done. For example, if an inspector finds 100 things wrong and you ask for 10 of the biggest problems, they are going to be relieved you didn’t ask for all 100 problems. If on the same house a cheap inspector finds 15 bigger things wrong and leaves out all of the smaller problems and you ask for 10 things to be repaired, the sellers are going to be more likely to think you are taking advantage of them and not want to do all of the repairs. People like “fair,” and “fair” is relative. The less you ask for in proportion to the number of problems, the more likely you are to have them done.

Related: 7 Smart Tips for Getting the Most Out of a Property Inspection

One of the best strategies to get repairs done that I’ve used is to make two lists of all of the repairs in the report. One list will be what you are asking the sellers to fix, and the other list will be the things you are going to fix once it’s your property. The longer your list is relative to theirs, the more repairs you are likely to get done. Besides, if you send the sellers the inspection report, they no have to disclose all of these same problems to the next buyer and go through the same thing again. And there is always the fear that the next buyer might ask for more. This strategy works very well.

A lot of times sellers will not be able to afford the repairs. That leaves only the option of lowering the price. If you are handy, you can save a bit of money on the purchase and just do the work yourself.

What do YOU look for in a top notch home inspector?

Let’s talk in the comments section below.

About Author

Brett Lee

Brett Lee is a licensed Real Estate Broker in Portland Oregon where he helps people achieve a better future so they can do the things that truly make them happy. Brett is also a buy-and-hold investor, property manager and investment advisor.


  1. Taheem Bellz

    Thanks for the gem, I’m also learning anxious in the process of doing my first deal, however excited to pull the trigger. That post really gave me more confidence to go through when it’s my time which should in a few months. Definitly will put that knowledge you shared with us in my tool box.

    • Brett Lee

      You’re right about having a hard time finding a good inspector and them not having thermal imaging. I am a home inspector/realtor in Portland and I use thermal Imaging. I just met a new realtor today that has 25 years experience and he had never heard of using thermal imaging. He couldn’t believe what it could do. Because home inspectors tend to be bad at what they do, have no customer service and none of the important equipment I started a home inspection company because I knew I would have no competition. Maybe you should do the same and set a new standard.

  2. Sasha Fukuda

    You know, i read this blog post right before i hired my first home inspector. And yet, despite reading this, i didn’t question it when the inspector didn’t try to access the attic and said he wouldn’t go up on the (fairly flat) roof. I ended up asking for an extension of the inspection period the day before it ended because i discovered major red flags at the last moment. One was a serious foundation issue that the inspector had missed. One was related to the neighborhood rather than to the house. And one was a story that one of the tenants told me. She said that her boyfriend had gone up into the attic and discovered squirrel nests and electrical wires that had been chewed by the squirrels down to the copper. Immediately after i got the extension, the realtor and I went to the property to try to access the attic. We went into the vacant second floor apartment, tried to get in thru the trap door, and found it inaccessible. The attic was filled with blown in insulation. Later, i called the tenant and she said that her boyfriend had gained access to the attic thru some other entrance. She said that if i called the next day, she’d ask him and let me know what he said. The next day when i called her, she said that her boyfriend had told her that he’d gained entrance thru a trap door on the roof. I never found out whether this trap door exists. I ended up cancelling the contract over the foundation issue anyway, so the chewed electrical wires became a moot point.

    In the future, talking to the tenants and neighbors will be one of the first things i do, not one of the last. I will never use that property inspector again, and I will never hire another property inspector that doesn’t go up into attics or on roofs. Oh… and I’ll never look at squirrels the same way again.

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