Jeff Robinson’s success as a real estate agent in the Milwaukee area didn’t come through deception. As he puts it, “A hundred percent upfront honesty is mandatory in my business.”

That also goes for the home inspectors he recommends to prospective buyers. A real estate agent relies on referrals, and a home buyer isn’t going to differentiate between the agent and the home inspector if something the home inspector said turns out to be untrue. To the buyer, that also reflects poorly on the real estate agent.

Stephen FitzMaurice

Honesty is an important trait most real estate agents look for in a home inspector, but it’s far from the only thing. To Robinson, good communication skills are a must for a home inspector. Robinson uses the example of a broken light switch.

“A lot of buyers don’t have familiarity with electricity and can feel that’s a very dangerous situation, where it’s really not,” Robinson said. “And there are inspectors who can make it sound like that broken light switch is going to burn down the whole house.”

Portland-based real estate agent Stephen FitzMaurice is a licensed broker in Oregon, where home inspectors who can provide a broad array of tests are highly valued. He said a typical home inspection requires a sewer scope, where a camera is run through the sewer line to make sure it is in good condition, and a tank sweep, where a metal detector is used to check whether there are any buried heating fuel tanks that were not registered with the government.

Jeff Robinson

“Those are local issues,” FitzMaurice said. “If one inspector can come out with a team or do it all himself and get it done in one day without us having to call and schedule three different companies for the job, then that’s a service to our client. Real estate transactions are very time sensitive, and a lot of time we have a short period of time we need to conduct all those tests.”

As for the theory that you get what you pay for, Robinson said that doesn’t always apply when recommending a home inspector. The best home inspectors aren’t always the ones who charge the most. In fact, Robinson said, the home inspector he uses most is one of the cheapest.

“It’s because he’s so successful he doesn’t have to charge those [high] rates,” Robinson said. “All of his business is referral-based, as well.”

FitzMaurice, who has 12 years of experience as a real estate agent, said a home buyer often can get a reduced inspection price by using an inspector who is new to the business, although he would not recommend someone who doesn’t have a construction background or general contracting experience.

In instances where time is of the essence, FitzMaurice said some home inspectors team up so they can put two people in a house and perform the inspection in half the time.

“That could be important to a client,” FitzMaurice said. “We try to match the home inspector to the needs of the client.”