The home inspection business is increasingly a popular place to be for building contractors, engineers and others. National trade associations report their applications for membership are rising. Some inspectors are beginning to market themselves aggressively, advertising on radio and on cable stations.
But not every home inspector should be one, some inspectors say. Home inspectors don't need state licenses, and not all professional home inspection groups require their members to have previous experience to say they are "certified."
Here's what inspectors and the larger associations suggest homeowners look for when they select an inspection pro:
* Look for the inspector to be a member of an organization that has professional standards and a code of ethics. The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) requires its members to pass national exams, provide proof of continuing education every two years, and reviews inspectors' reports to make sure they comply with its standards of practice.
"ASHI strictly enforces that," says Harvey Mosier, president of the local ASHI chapter and an inspector with R. J. Moore and Associates in Columbia. "Sixty five members nationwide were dropped this year alone for not meeting their requirements of membership."
* Ask for referrals from associations, real estate agents and acquaintances who have recently hired an inspector.
* Look for adequate background and qualifications. "I think Realtors know who good inspectors are. But I also think the customer should check them out on their own, much like they checked out what Realtor they would use," says Mr. Mosier.
A recent law requires professional home inspectors to furnish their credentials before the inspection to people who hire their services. Ask them to describe previous home inspection experience. Ask what professional training they have had.
"Just because they have an engineering degree doesn't mean they are qualified to do an inspection," says Stephen Showalter, an inspector with Building Specs Inc. of Annapolis and a member of the National Association of Home Inspectors.
* Ask if they have errors and omissions insurance and accident insurance.
* Ask to see other inspection reports the inspector has completed.
* Ask how long they have been in business and whether inspection is their primary business or a sideline to a home repair company. "Make sure the inspector does not remediate or repair anything on his inspection report," Mr. Showalter advises.
* Request a copy of the inspector's standard contract. "Talk to the inspector or office staff about what they really do," Mr. Mosier says. "Are they going to go on the roof and are they going to give you a report on site, or type it up and send it later?"
Mr. Showalter said a housing inspection report can hold up the settlement process if it isn't finished quickly.
* Find out how long the inspection lasts and if you can be there with the inspector. "A good inspector will promote the buyer being at the inspection," Mr. Mosier says. "We do not invite the client on the roof, although I turned around one time and saw a woman had followed me up with a movie camera."