Do you know what’s wrong with your house? If you don’t, you will soon after you and a prospective buyer come to terms and sign a contract.

That’s when the buyer will likely send through his or her inspector to closely scrutinize your property. And after the inspection report is issued, your attorney or agent will be hearing from the broker’s representative about what is wrong and what they’d like you to do to rectify the situation before closing.

Wouldn’t you rather know what the inspector is going to find ahead of time? There’s one easy way to do it — hire your own inspector to do a “pre-listing inspection.”

The point of a pre-listing inspection is to find out what problems or physical issues your house may have. You might think that you already know what these are — after all, you’ve been living in the house.

But after you’ve lived somewhere for a period of time, sometimes months or even years, the physical problems and limitations of the property might fade from your mind. It’s like looking through a dirty window. If you do it day in and day out, one day your eye might not absorb the fact that the window is filthy. You just learn to see past it.

But a buyer isn’t going to see past any of these physical problems you’ve just learned to live with. For the price they’re paying, they want perfection — or as close to it as they can get. That means, you’ll be stuck fixing broken windows, greasing door jambs, and doing all sorts of odds and ends just when you want to be packing up for your own move.

If you don’t fix the perceived defects, the buyer will ask that you lower the price enough to pay for someone to come in and fix them later, after the closing.

How do you find a home inspector to do your prelisting inspection? Ask your agent. Each real estate agent has a cadre of home sale professionals he or she works with on a regular basis. If you haven’t hired a real estate agent yet to sell your home, or if you’re selling by owner, you can log onto the web site of the American Society of Home Inspectors ( to find a list of ASHI-certified inspectors near you.

If you have a home that’s coated with synthetic stucco, be sure to find an inspector with specialized training to fully test whether water infiltration has occurred in your home.

The home inspector you hire should be licensed (if your state licenses home inspectors), bonded and insured. You should also check with state regulators to see if any complaints have been logged against the inspector. The Better Business Bureau ( remains an excellent source for information on a company’s business practices.

Don’t be afraid to ask friends and relatives for the names of inspectors with whom they had a good experience. Once you have a handful of names, you can begin the interviewing process. Here’s what to do when you call the inspectors:

  • Compare fees: Fees vary widely. Some inspectors charge you by the size of your home, others by the sales price. Expect to spend $250 to $600 or more for your prelisting inspection.

  • Ask what’s included in the fee and how long the inspection will take. Expect to spend at least two hours for a thorough interior and exterior of the home.

  • Compare telephone manners. The inspector should be courteous and knowledgeable.

  • Ask if the inspector is a current member of ASHI or another professional home inspection trade group. Ask how many years of experience the inspector has. You can then contact ASHI or the other trade group to find out whether the inspector is a member in good standing.

  • Ask about written documentation. Many of the best home inspectors carry handheld computers that automatically generate a written report. Others take notes, go back to their offices, and fax their report later. Ask the inspector what kind of report is provided. It should contain more than a simply checkmark (“good,” “average,” “below average”) on a form.

  • Ask for reference — and then call them. How many times have you received the name and number for a reference and then not called them? This time, you want to make sure the buyer or seller was happy with the quality of the inspection. Ask for the name of a real estate agent that often refers business to the inspector. Call the agent and talk about how thorough the inspector was and if the inspector has missed anything big on recent inspections.

  • Ask how many inspections the inspector completes each year. The best inspectors complete two to three inspections per day. Anything more means the inspector isn’t spending enough time at the property. Anything less than an average of one a day might mean the inspector doesn’t do the job full-time.

Keep in mind that inspectors will often have you sign a contract that limits their liability to the amount you paid for the inspection in case they miss something big. The best inspectors carry Errors and Omissions insurance. If something goes wrong, they stand behind their inspection.

May 13, 2005.