Finding a dynamite Seattle home inspector
May 1, 2005 8:03 PM   Subscribe

General question: How do you find a really dynamite home inspector? Specific question: Does anyone know a great home inspector in the Seattle area, or a more specific way to find one here?

I'm house hunting in Bellevue. I've read other AskMe questions that advise finding a great home inspector. I figure, maybe I'll even get two home inspections... they're fairly cheap. I'd just like to find a really sharp inspector or two.

Any advice other than 'word of mouth'? Failing that, anyone got some word of mouth?
posted by agropyron to Home & Garden (18 answers total)
Are you not using a realtor? Our Seattle realtor recommended the home inspector, we went with him, and as far as we know, all went fine.

Have you owned a home before? If you have, there may be specific areas of the home that you've been burned on that you want specific inspections of. We had another house that had damage in the chimney--not something a regular inspection covers--so I found a chimney inspector to come out and check that out before we bought. I believe I just found that person in the phone book.

And for future homes, I am calling a plumber and having them come out and send a small camera down my pipes to inspect those before I buy. Again, not handled by your regular inspector, yet if there are major problems, you're on the hook for them if you buy unsuspecting.

I suspect homes are newer in Bellevue than where we bought, in Ballard, but I'd still do this if it were me.
posted by GaelFC at 8:20 PM on May 1, 2005

As I mentioned in the 'is $20K enough? hell no' thread, one idea might be to call a few exclusive buyer's agents and ask for a recommendation. Buyer's agents have a vested interest in accurate inspections, so they should know someone good. A quick search turns up these folks, it might be a good place to start asking.

I would also recommend Angie's List, which I've heard is very useful, but I see that it hasn't come to the Seattle market yet.
posted by ulotrichous at 8:22 PM on May 1, 2005

Response by poster: I am using a buyer's agent, and I plan to ask him for a recommendation. I did that last time, and he did a good job, but I felt like he missed a few things that might have been caught by someone better.

We're likely going to be buying an older home this time around, to get more square footage, so the inspection will probably be more crucial, since there will be more potential problems. (We're looking at homes built in the 70's, as opposed to our current 1990 townhome.)

GaelFC: Did something specific make you suspect plumbing problems, or was it just the home's age?
posted by agropyron at 8:59 PM on May 1, 2005

Are you working in the Seattle area right now? If so, ask your coworkers for recommendations. That's how a lot of people I know get referrals (and dis-referrals) around here. If your company is relatively large, you may even be able to find a discussion group devoted to homeowner issues.
posted by rhiannon at 9:31 PM on May 1, 2005

No, I didn't suspect plumbing problems when we bought in 2001, just never thought of it. Then a year or so after buying our home, water started backing up in the basement. Fortunately it wasn't that bad, but that stuff is never fun. Looking back, we should have spotted water stains on the thin basement carpet, but didn't--the people who sold the house to us really didn't take advantage of the roomy, semi-finished basement, but we wanted to, and put new carpet in ours.

Long story short: When the plumber came to deal with the backups, he discovered the entire pipe system was crumbling from age. Up and down our neighborhood folks were having the same problem. Regularly you'd see another front yard scaffolded up while plumbers dug a big trench. We were able to afford the repairs and now have an entirely new pipe system which has given us no trouble since, but had this been our first home, we might have been really struggling to pay for it.

Since I doubt I'll ever live in a brand-new home (love the charm of old homes, adore the city over the 'burbs), I'd just always add a plumbing inspection to any inspections I get when buying another place. I think it's $250-$300 to have them send the tiny camera down, make a videotape of your pipes, and then view it with you and point out anything that's going to be trouble in upcoming years.

Again, were I buying a newish home in Bellevue, I might eschew this. For me it's cheap insurance, but then I was kind of burned once.
posted by GaelFC at 9:51 PM on May 1, 2005

Best answer: This book had very useful advice about what questions to ask when you call a home inspector to interview him/her.

Some of these included:
-Tell an inspector that this is your first home purchase (if indeed it is), and that you are looking to be "educated" as well as get a home inspector.

-Ask him/her what kind of report is prepared at the end of the inspection-- it should be more than a checklist. Also, some inspectors will tape-record the details of the inspection.

-Ask him if he climbs into the crawl space underneath the house (he should!)

-Ask him how he inspects the roof.
posted by picklebird at 5:26 AM on May 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

I found the book My House is Killing Me to be quite good to get a feel for things to look for.

In the book he recommends someone who is ASHI certified. If you go to that webpage there's a zip-code search
posted by jacobsee at 5:49 AM on May 2, 2005

I've also heard that the inspector recommended by your realtor is not always the best choice. That's what we did and it turned out ok, but he definitely didn't do the most thorough job.
posted by jacobsee at 5:51 AM on May 2, 2005

Best answer: The folks at Tomacor in Chicago train home inspectors now. Ask them if they have any contacts out near you.

Realtors quake in their boots when Tomacor shows up. Because Tomacor will find anything that is wrong with the house, write it up and give you an entire detailed binder of the results along with detailed information about all of the systems in a home and how to assess them. (Plus what should be done to fix the most common problems.) You can't buy this binder anywhere but I refer to it constantly to learn how to maintain and repair our 1914 Craftsman bungalow. That alone was worth the price of the inspection for me. Sometimes deals fall apart based on a Tomacor inspection and real estate agents don't like that. But the homeowner wins because knowledge is power. Plus, Tomacor doesn't do repair and has no financial stake in the results.

It is a bit scary to hire a Tomacor trained inspector because they will find all of these things...but, you can also use their findings to negotiate for a better deal. (FYI...we've never taken a dime from Tomacor and we paid the same price that everyone else pays for their services. We only recommend them based on our personal experience. If you do decide to use a person trained by them, please drop us a line and let us know how it went. Thanks.)
posted by jeanmari at 8:24 AM on May 2, 2005

Wow, I don't know if our inspectors were Tomacor, and we're not in Chicagi, but I swear both times we received an entire detailed binder with all that info. Isn't that standard? Maybe theirs includes more that ours did not.
posted by GaelFC at 8:27 AM on May 2, 2005

Best answer: If you can't get Tomacor on the case, look for a HouseMaster franchisee, although it doesn't appear they have one that works in King County. The company was an early influence in setting standards for inspectors, and requires all of its franchisees to receive its training. They also provide a detailed inspection report (not as extensive as Tomacor's probably, but it doesn't sound like anyone's would be) and provide a warranty. (And all franchisees are required to carry insurance to back this warranty.)

A friend of mine back in Michigan used to have the HouseMaster franchise for Lansing and I was pretty impressed by his knowledge. He now freelances in Ann Arbor so as not to have to pay the HouseMaster franchise fee.
posted by kindall at 8:51 AM on May 2, 2005

GaelFC...your inspectors might have been trained by Tomacor.
posted by jeanmari at 8:51 AM on May 2, 2005

For whatever it's worth, when I bought my current house, I had an inspector who was recommended by my agent. He seemed to be quite thorough, and wrote up a 14-page report. A friend of mine who is a civil engineer looked over the report and was impressed by his apparent thoroughness.

Over the years, I've discovered a few problems that he really should have caught, a few others that he simply mis-diagnosed, and others where his proposed remedies were impractical or had already been attempted (according to the contractors I asked to make the repairs). These are not fidgety little problems--these are things like roof leaks.

Now I'm trying to sell the same house. I did a walk-through with a different inspector who was instantly pinpointing problems that have been there all along. It was quite an eye-opener.

Next time, I just don't think I would accept the report of one inspector.
posted by adamrice at 9:50 AM on May 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

Yes, yes, and more yes for "The Virgin Homeowner". Buy it before you even go looking at houses. We followed the advice above and found a terrific inspector by just running through the list of questions.
posted by plinth at 9:58 AM on May 2, 2005

ServiceMagic. Companies do pay to be listed with this referral service, but you will be referred to several possibilities and are asked for your opinion of their work. The companies can follow up on your remarks if you choose to share with them, and ServiceMagic also follows up with them (I believe companies can be delisted with enough bad reviews).
posted by suchatreat at 10:41 AM on May 2, 2005

Unfortunately, a realtor (buyer's agent) has an incentive at cross-purposes with that of the actual buyer. The realtor wants to close the deal (and earn a commission). But if the inspector finds a lot of problems, the buyer may decide he/she isn't interested in the house. And if the buyer walks, then the realtor has to restart the search for a house that the buyer is interested in - a lot more work.

So, while recommending a really bad inspector could hurt the realtor's reputation (important for future referrals and being used again), it wouldn't be surprising for a realtor to recommend a good-but-not-great inspector.
posted by WestCoaster at 3:31 PM on May 2, 2005

Response by poster: Too bad I can't get a Tomacor inspector here, they look great. I called them and they didn't seem willing or able to tell me if anyone around here has their training.

However -- the Virgin Homebuyer is a great book! Thanks for the recommendation.
posted by agropyron at 8:42 PM on May 3, 2005

I always explicitly avoid any inspected proposed by a realtor in the transaction - too much chance for bias. My good friend is the owner of All Point Home Inspections. He mostly works on the peninsula now but may be able to make a recommendation or have time for the Seattle area.

He is also one of the developers of the web based home inspection software ReportHost.
posted by btosch at 8:20 PM on November 16, 2005

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