3. Demand a thorough job. Only about half the states have laws stipulating exactly what must be covered during an inspection (for information about your state, see ). A thorough job should include a complete assessment of the interior and exterior of the house, from roof to foundation, as well as a performance analysis of the heating, plumbing, and air-conditioning and electrical systems. Some crawl spaces may be too small or too dangerous for inspectors to wriggle into; expect to be told about any parts of the house that weren't examined.

For a three-bedroom, two-bath home on up to an acre of land, a complete inspection should last about three hours and cost between $300 and $500, depending on the region of the country and the size of the house and property. "Cost is a good indicator of how comprehensive the inspection is going to be," says Bellefontaine, whose experience prompted him to give up carpentry and become a home inspector himself. "An inspector can't afford to do a good inspection for $99." One key reason: expensive equipment. A diligent home inspector carries a toolbox that includes carbon monoxide and natural gas detectors, moisture meters, outlet testers, voltage meters, and an array of measuring devices. "The discount guys try to get away with not much more than a flashlight, ladder, and screwdriver. That's not enough," he says.

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