What to know before you choose a home inspector in the D.C. area
Row house in D.C.
Hiring a home inspector and waiting for the report are two of the most nerve-racking parts of buying a house.
Just finding an inspector can prove tricky for those living in the Washington area because the rules for home inspection licensing vary among Maryland, Virginia and the District.
Home inspection licensing laws
All home inspectors must have a license in the state of Maryland.
In Virginia, licensing is optional, but you must have one if you market yourself as a "licensed" inspector.
No licensing for home inspectors even exists in D.C. “Nothing is mandated for home inspectors in the District,” says Glen Blanc, of highly rated Pro Spex Home Inspection Service in Laurel, Maryland. "It's pretty much anything goes there."
All of this means that “customers have to do their homework,” he adds.
Don’t let that homework, though, keep you from hiring an inspector who knows what to look for in the Washington area.
In addition to knowing the licensing requirements, make sure the inspector is there to only represent you, the home buyer.
“It’s important to find an inspector who is independent,” says Jacques Sirvain of Potomac Homes in Potomac, Maryland. “I don’t work for the real estate agent. I work for my client.”
Problems home inspectors find
The most common problems that Potomac Homes finds in homes they inspect fall into four categories:
- Major defects such as structural failure.
- Things that lead to major defects, such as small roof-flashing leaks.
- Things that may hinder your ability to finance, legally occupy, or insure the home.
- Safety hazards, such as a faulty electric panel.
Sirvain says problems with drainage and grading are the biggest issues he regularly sees in homes around the Washington area. Both problems should be addressed before homebuyers sign on the dotted line.
Blanc has a simple approach when he inspects a home.
“We try not to look for anything in particular, but to look at everything and assess,” he says.
Review the house before listing, buying
It’s not common for residents in this area to have an inspection done on the home they are selling, but Blanc thinks it’s a good idea.
“It’s helpful to know where the problems may be, and it saves a lot of arguing at the closing table,” he says.
Several years ago in the Washington area, many contracts excluded home buyers from obtaining a home inspection because so many people were purchasing homes. “A lot of those buyers ended up being disappointed because they bypassed the home inspection,” Blanc says.
Will the days of no home inspections return with a strengthening local housing market? No one knows for sure.
“There was a real frenzy in the market back then,” says Sirvain, adding that those days are likely gone for good. “The market doesn’t look like that anymore.”
Blanc, however, does see a time when home inspections will once again be ignored as they were around 2007, at least for a specific segment of the market. “Most people who are buying their second home will know to get an inspection,” he says. “It’s the first-time buyers entering a hot market where the seller has all the control.”
Blanc offers a thought for potential home buyers who find that beautifully finished home they can’t live without.
“Just because everything looks good on the surface doesn’t mean that there aren’t major problems,” he says. “You never know.”