The agents that I know in SF all use inspectors from a pool of respected professionals. We all know how the inspector works and we know which one to hire for specific properties. For example, does the property have a boiler, does it have a brick foundation etc. The inspectors that do lots of single family homes might not be the right person to inspect a multi-family TIC on Russian Hill.
That said, and as someone who has experience in construction and forensic failure analysis in construction I listen to some inspectors chosen by the other side and wonder who these folks think they are with the crud the say.
The fact is that your inspectors should be accredited and also have general contractor licenses. That is who I'd recommend as the standard of care for my clients.
Then because they have liability you have to take some recommendations and get second opinions. An example would be when you hear an inspector call out for new furnaces because the house has a gravity flow furnace that was installed when the house was built. It is very possible that the furnace could last a long time if nothing has actually failed. Then you need to have a test done to verify the firebox isn't cracked and that the furnace works as designed.
I could give many examples of overly cautious recommendations that can be used by aggressive buyers to negotiate but are not really neccessary.
I always bring in a general contractor when there is a question regarding building code compliance for the general structure. Inspectors can usually tell you if something doesn't function or is broken, worn, or rotten, but they typically don't have sufficient knowledge of building codes to tell you if something is designed and built correctly.
If the home you're looking at is older and has been remodeled a few times, it's probably a good idea to have a general contractor help you verify that each remodel was permitted and installed correctly.
One thing that is infinitely helpful is to actually be there during the inspection. In that way you can get much more input from the inspector that he cannot put in the report. You can get a better sense of what is really worth worrying about, and what should just be monitored. You also get to ask questions and get more complete explanations. Always be present during the inspection.
Inspectors are trained specifically the purpose of evaluating a home's utility and condition. A general contractor may be able to provide you with some great structural and system information but I would strongly recommend an inspector over a contractor for a home evaluation every time.
However, as I stated below if the contractor is actively engaged in contracting and is also billing himself as an inspector I exercise on the side of caution. I know contractors who use the home inspection ploy to garner work.
In fact I know of a contractor who will go out and do an inspection and present his home inspection business card and when he sends them the report he slips his construction card with his foreman's name on it as a referral.
There are a lot of very good home inspectors who don't have a contractors license. I'd be more concerned about their overall experience and certifications than to worry about whether or not they have a license.
Having been a general and manufactured home contractor for almost 3 decades I do not personally do home inspections as it can tend to come across as self serving if not an overt conflict of interest and a way for a contractor to backdoor business.
I recommend folks who ask me for referrals to reach out to experienced "California Real Estate Inspection Association" "(CREIA)" home inspectors. They tend to be the most qualified and experienced and CREIA really encourages training as they do offer a certification program for it's members.
Additionally, there are several community college and private courses you can enroll in that will offer hundreds of hours worth of courses and training. If a person tells you he's licensed I tend to think they probably mean they hold certain business licenses i.e. city, county, etc.
Not all general contractors necessarily specialize in residential housing. Some do commercial or industrial, others to Tenant Improvements (TI) while other specialize in other forms of construction i.e. "Factory Built" housing which also requires an experienced Manufactured Home inspector and not just any home inspector not familiar with all the nuances relative to the industry. Hope this helps.
We have a full array of contractors we use for our own projects and for clients if you'd like recommendations, and have some for inspectors as well. Contact info below if you want info.
Lance King/Owner-Managing Broker
That said, on such a large home purchase, if you have any concerns what so ever.... why not get individual experts for anything that you have any concerns with?
While there are many very good home inspectors who have never been licensed but have had years of experience doing home inspections you can't deminish the value and the overall building and construction experience from that of a contractor.
The only takeaway I see is that you remain cautious of contractors who try to bait and switch their clients into doing the work that they discovered needed to be done during their inspection. A contractor/inspector should never be used for both as it tends in many if not most to be a self serving ploy to garner work for them.
In fact I wouldn't even accept any recommendations from a contractor/inspector as many of them are in cahoots with the contractors they recommend. Ask your RE professional, lender or some neighbors in the neighborhood for referrals.
Now, if you were to encounter a specific problem resulting from an inspection, it is recommended that customers call on the specialist to evaluate specific problems: roofers, plumbers, electricians, architects, masons, HVAC, etc.
A general contractor's experience might allow them to miss problems that would have been detected by an inspector. A general contractor would likely have a more limited back ground and need to call on other trades people to do a more thorough evaluation.
Simply stated, this is a world of specialization, the fact that an inspector identifies and refers customers to other people for a higher level of support, in my opinion, is a good thing.
Just keeping it real!
Not all home inspectors have the experience building a home that a contractor does. In fact I know a few home inspectors who've never worked in the trades. They just started reading some books and learning through trial and error which doesn't generally make them the sharpest tool in the shed. Plus there are no licensing requirements for home inspectors like there are licensed contractors.
I would look for a formally practicing contractor with a current and valid license. But not one that's still taking on work. That is definitely a conflict of interest and usually smells like a contractor trying to slide in through the back door for some work. If you can't find a currently licensed contractor at least find one who's been licensed in the field you need inspected.
Thank you for going with us, as far as your report goes there are definitely some limitations as far as what an inspector can say or what he or she can comment on each particular problem due to the liability from our end.
When choosing your inspector, definitely look at all the licenses and certifications they have, it's also important to have your inspector insured. I do agree that due to flexibility in the law, anyone can be an inspector, I just recently encountered a guy who paid $400 to ASHI to be a member, did not even pass any tests and now doing inspections on properties in San Francisco, so if you use an inspector with a background in Construction and some certifications is is only the best thing for you.
Here are the certifications/licenses I would look for: ICC (International Code Council) Residential Inspector, ASHI Certified Inspector, Good Standing General Contractor's License.