Newhouse News Service

You just found your dream home.

The deluxe master bedroom has his and hers walk-in closets. The gourmet kitchen is filled with the latest appliances. And the garage can fit your car, his car and all the kids' toys.

Your offer has been accepted and you're through with attorney review. Now you have a week to hire a home inspector.

The first guy you call shows up without a ladder. He spends an hour looking around, says everything looks great and prints out a report on site. He says he's a termite inspector, too, and threw that in for free. You're only out $199, but you start to get nervous and call another.

He takes four hours, and climbs up to the roof with his own ladder. He starts talking about problems with the flashing (huh?), the underground oil tank (wasn't it supposed to be removed?) and the (supposedly new) hot-water heater. He charges you $500 and says you need to hire a termite inspector.

"Buyers are caught up in the home purchase process," said Joe Corsetto, a home inspector with Shelterworks in Roxbury and past president of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). "But what very few people realize is that the home inspector is one of the few in your last line of defense in making a bad decision."

So before you get caught, here's some advice on choosing a home inspector. The tips come from Corsetto and the ASHI website; Michael Del Greco, a member of the state Division of Consumer Affair's Home Inspection Advisory Committee; and Kathy Milinkovich, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker in Caldwell and Montclair.

When should I hire an inspector?

Usually, it's immediately following the attorney review process. Typically, your contract gives a certain amount of time -- often a week or two, but sometimes only a few days -- to get the inspection. Milinkovich recommends interviewing inspectors when you start looking for a new home.

How do I find a good one?

The best come from family and friends, Milinkovich said. Ask your real estate lawyer. Real estate agents also will provide a list. But no matter where you get names, you should check with the Division of Consumer Affairs to make certain the inspector is licensed.

A home inspector's Web site also can give some insight.

"Look at their writing style and how they describe defects," Corsetto said. "Do they talk about defects in a way you can use to negotiate?"

What should I ask?

-Experience: How many inspections has the inspector done? How long has he or she been an inspector? But keep it in perspective.

"If you're marketing and you do piles of inspections a year, you might be blowing through houses pretty quickly," Corsetto said.

-Credentials: "Ask for a resume," Del Greco said. "There's no harm in asking to see the license. We all carry a state-issued ID card."

-Scope: Does the inspector go through all of the crawl spaces, including the attic and foundation areas?

"The devil is in the details," Corsetto said. "You can't see the details from 200 feet."

-Timing: The size of the house should dictate the duration of an inspection. Be wary of inspectors who say they can get it done in under two hours.

Timing: The size of the house should dictate the duration of an inspection. Be wary of inspectors who say they can get it done in under two hours.

How long should the inspection take and how much should it cost?

Both depend on how big and ornate your house is. At minimum, the inspection of a basic three-bedroom should take up to four hours and cost from $500 to $600.

Some inspectors will print out reports on the spot. That may sound convenient, but experts recommend the inspector take time to digest the findings. Expect the report to be completed in a few days, and make time to go over it with the inspector.

How tough should the inspector be?

Inspectors should evaluate the condition of a home's heating and air conditioning; the plumbing; the electrical systems; the roof, attic and any visible insulation; the walls, ceilings, floors, windows and doors; and the foundation, basement and structural components. No home is perfect, and the inspector should identify all problems they see.

Don't be afraid to ask questions about the findings. And you might want to ask how the house compares with others in its price range and style.

What's not included?

It's generally better to hire someone else for termite or mold inspections. A home inspector has enough to look for.

What if the inspector missed something?

Home inspectors are not responsible for things they can't see. They can tell you that a boiler is old but can't tell you when it's going to break. But they are required to tell you if they find something that is a fire or safety hazard.

If you believe an inspector missed something, call him. Try to avoid yelling or screaming. If you can't reconcile the problem, or you suspect an inspector did something unethical, you can file a complaint with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs' Home Inspection Advisory Committee by calling (800) 242-5846 or through the agency's website at

Source: NewHouse News Service