Here’s what you should know about home inspectors, consumer group says

WASHINGTON — Buying a new home typically involves getting it inspected, but a local consumer’s group warns an investigation of home inspectors reveals how little work many are willing to do.

Washington Consumers’ Checkbook rented a house, posed as prospective buyers and had 12 area inspectors evaluate the property.

“We were astonished at how poorly many of them performed. Not all of them, but many of them performed just terribly,” said Kevin Brasler, executive editor at

Brasler said they all missed things, which is forgivable — but what shocked him is paying $540 on average for a job that involved so little work.

“They wouldn’t raise ladders to look at the roof, they wouldn’t check every outlet, they wouldn’t open and shut every window. One of them didn’t bother to check any of the plumbing in the house because they said it wasn’t occupied,” Brasler said.

Brasler said he understands some companies having policies against checking chimneys, for example, but he said an inspector could at least shine a flashlight up a fireplace to see whether it has a damper.

Some companies don’t check for pests. “Well, that’s fine. But maybe you should have noticed there’s a massive rodent problem in the basement of this home,” Brasler said.

One way to get an idea of how thorough an inspector might be is to ask to see a sample report from a previous customer.

“Another way to check on them is just to ask them specifically: ‘What will you do, what will you not do and how long will it take?'” Brasler said.

Here’s additional advice and perspective on home inspectors from Checkbook:

  • Real estate agents might recommend “easy” versus “picky” inspectors to help assure a sale goes through quickly. Brasler recommends finding your own inspector.
  • Before hiring an inspector, ask about their background and certifications. Brasler said this is a field where experience matters.
  • Before the inspection, check the property yourself, ask the seller lots of questions and carefully review any disclosures.
  • Do some checking around on your own before the inspector arrives so you can point out potential issues. “Identify stuff that you’re worried about and make sure the inspector will actually look at them,” Brasler said.
  • If you’re concerned about the quality of an inspector’s assessment, bring in your own specialist. For example, if you think the roof is old and leaky, bring in a roofer.
  • Especially important if you want the seller to help pay for repairs is to make sure detected problems are noted in the report with pictures and descriptions.
  • A common issue that deserves to be explored is wet basements and crawl spaces. Brasler said find out what’s making it wet. It’s usually clogged gutters or poor drainage outside.

Through a special arrangement with Washington Consumers’ Checkbook, readers can see Checkbook ratings for area home inspectors for a limited time.

Consumers’ Checkbook/Center for the Study of Services is an independent, nonprofit consumer organization founded in 1974. It has been an innovator in providing information to help consumers make smarter choices for more than 40 years.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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