Home inspection is a relatively new profession and thus far is not regulated in most states. At present, anyone can claim to be a home inspector because licensing and certification are not commonly required. Therefore, buyers must exercise extreme care and cautious consideration before hiring just anyone. To begin, I would recommend the following criteria:
1) Professional Affiliation: In most areas, the only practical standards for home inspectors are those enacted by professional associations such as the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) and various other state organizations. Membership requires adherence to professional standards of practice and participation in ongoing education. When you choose a home inspector, you should specify membership in one of these recognized guilds. Inspectors who claim adherence to ASHI standards but who are not actual ASHI members are avoiding professional accountability and should be viewed with caution.
2) Inspection Experience: Of paramount importance is an inspector's actual level of direct experience in the practice of home inspection. Any contractor who has done less than 1,000 inspections is, in my opinion, still an apprentice. A general contractor's license is an important credential, but when it comes to home inspection, a license to build indicates very little in relation to competence as a property inspector. The experience that matters most is inspection experience, not building experience.
3) Building Code Certification: Although the primary focus of a home inspection is not code compliance, many of the conditions evaluated by a home inspector have their basis in code-related building standards. To ensure that an inspector is competent in this area of building knowledge, it is wise to seek someone with ICBO certification. This is the credential required of municipal building inspectors in most areas of the United States.
4) Ask for a Sample Report: The proof is in the product, so be sure to request a sample report. What you're looking for is a format which is not only detailed and comprehensive, but which is easily interpreted and which makes a clear distinction between defective building conditions and "boiler plate" verbiage. Some reports are so heavily loaded with general building information and liability disclaimers, that pertinent information about the property is obscured.
5) Let the Choice Be Yours: When choosing a home inspector, let the final selection be your own. Don't rely on others to make the choice for you. New and inexperienced inspectors are often able to obtain professional recommendations, regardless of their actual levels of thoroughness, competence, or lack thereof. What you want is the most meticulous, detailed home inspector available--the one who will save you from costly surprises after the close of escrow. The best inspectors are often labeled as "Deal Killers." This tongue-in-cheek appellation generally connotes those inspectors who provide the best level of consumer protection.
6) Avoid Price Shopping: Home inspection fees vary widely. The price of a quality inspection generally falls between $250 and $300. Lower fees should be regarded with suspicion, as they often identify those who are new to the business or who do not spend sufficient time performing the inspection. A home is the most expensive commodity you are likely to purchase in a lifetime. One defect missed by your inspector could cost 100 times what you save with a bargain inspection. The best method of price shopping is to shop for quality.