Using a professional home inspector is important. Good home inspectors not only know a great deal about how houses are built and how they function, but they understand how houses age and sustain damage over time. They are familiar with the impact of water and soils on foundations and siding. They have seen how furnaces are damaged by leaking humidifiers, air conditioners, and flues. And they have experience with the often bizarre, and occasionally dangerous, things that homeowners do in the process of repairing, upgrading and remodeling their homes.
There is nothing wrong with having your uncle-the-contractor take a look at the home, but don’t use your uncle as a substitute for a professional inspector. It also may not be a bad idea to hire an electrician, plumber, structural engineer or heating contractor to look at the systems they specialize in, but don’t use this as a substitute for a general inspector who will look at how all these systems work together.
You need to be aware of two things when selecting and working with an inspector. First, there are no licensing or training requirements for inspectors in Colorado. Anyone can run an ad in the yellow pages and immediately become a “home inspector.” There are national associations and national franchises that may guarantee some basic level of competence from their members, but referrals from people in the industry are probably the best means of assuring you are working with a good inspector. However, you also need to be aware that inspectors are in a very difficult position within the industry. Most receive the bulk of their business through referrals from real estate agents, agents who only get paid when home sales close. While most inspectors do a good job of representing the interests of the buyer, the pressures and potential conflicts of interest are real.
My recommendation is to hire an inspector who has extensive experience in the inspection business and who will spend 2 to 4 hours in the home. This will cost between $200 and $300. I also think you’re better off if you talk with the inspector about the results of the inspection without the seller or any real estate agents present. Both you and the inspector may feel more comfortable to speak openly under these circumstances.