Featuring America's Home Inspector: Nationally Syndicated Columnist, Barry Stone

Good Idea Declined by Building Department

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: My house has street parking only, with no room for a driveway on either side. Most of my neighbors park on their front lawns, which is illegal and which downgrades the look of the neighborhood. In a nicer part of town, I saw a home with elegant front yard parking, paved with turf blocks and enclosed by an iron gate. I want to copy this parking arrangement, but the building department refuses to issue a permit, even though this would improve the appearance of the area. They say off-street parking is not allowed, even though everyone else is already doing it. I’ve decided to go ahead with the project without a permit. Could this cause a problem when I sell the property? Darin

Dear Darin: Lack of adequate parking in a residential neighborhood is a problem for property owners, tenants, and visitors. Failure of your local building department to recognize a practical solution is not a credit to their good judgment or their obligation to serve the needs of the community. They would do well to judge a permit request on its specific merits, rather than blindly impose the strict letter of the law, to the benefit of no one.

If you proceed with your parking project without a permit, you may or may not encounter problems with the building department. In most cases, work of this kind, where actual building construction is not involved, goes unnoticed, and many homeowners make such improvement without even considering a permit in the first place. However, the bureaucrats do have authority, and it is within their power to make you undo the improvement if they are so inclined. What’s more, they’ve already demonstrated an unwillingness to apply common sense to a reasonable proposal. In situations of this kind, the possibility of bureaucratic interference should not be dismissed, but the odds against it are probably in your favor.

As for potential problems when you sell the property, your only obligation is to disclose that the parking area was built without a permit. Most buyers willing accept such conditions, but some may not.

Expired warranty

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We purchased a new home, and just before the 10 yr warranty was up, a leak developed in the upstairs bathtub drain. The homebuilder came out, opened up the ceiling below the tub, repaired the leaking pipe, patched the ceiling, and all was well for about two years. Now the leaking has returned and, once again, there is a wet stain on the ceiling. Since the 10-year warranty has now expired, are we on our own with this problem, or is the builder still responsible? Brian

Dear Brian: At this point, the builder may be willing to make the repair as a matter of good will, but he may no longer be obligated to do so unless it can be shown that the repair he did two years ago was done incorrectly or that the new leak is the result of an original construction defect. To answer these questions, an observation hole should be cut into the ceiling to see exactly where the leak is occurring. The plumbing repair itself may not be expensive, but that will need to be determined by a licensed plumber. Regardless of who pays for the repair work, an openable access hatch should be installed below the bathtub plumbing so that future repairs in that location will not involve ceiling repairs as well.

Once Again: Why Sellers Need Home Inspectors

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We’re planning to put our home on the market but are not in agreement about hiring a home inspector. I believe we should know every possible issue prior to listing the property, while my husband believes that doing so increases the number of defects we will have to disclose. Do you see pre-listing home inspections as an advantage or a disadvantage for sellers? Sheila

Dear Sheila: The subject of pre-sale home inspections for sellers has been addressed from time to time in this column because so few sellers are aware of the advantages of hiring their own home inspector. Basically, there are four compelling reasons for sellers to have their home inspected prior to listing it for sale:

  1. When you present an inspection report to prospective buyers at the outset of the deal, it eliminates the need to renegotiate after the buyers hire their own home inspector.†In most transactions, the entire deal is contingent on the buyers’ acceptance of their home inspector’s report. A thorough report by your own inspector reduces the likelihood of new findings by the buyers’ inspector.
  2. Providing an inspection report to buyers promotes an atmosphere of trust. It indicates to buyers that you, the sellers, have nothing to hide and are willing to disclose everything.
  3. If an undisclosed defect is discovered after you sell the property, you are less likely to be suspected of having concealed the problem intentionally, especially if you hired a home inspector with a reputation for thoroughness.
  4. A presale inspection enables you to transact an as-is sale, while still meeting your obligation to provide disclosure. You simply state that you are not intending to make repairs but are providing, instead, a complete list of conditions that warrant repair. Presale home inspections provide strong advantages for sellers, yet few sellers exercise the option or are even aware of it as a consideration. In today’s buyers’ market, sellers need to take this proactive approach to disclosure.

Inspector say old water is good – gasman says it’s unsafe.

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: When we purchased our house, our home inspector said the water heater was an old model but was in useable condition. After moving in, we called the gas company to light the burner pilot, and the gasman red-tagged the unit, refusing to light it. According to the gas company, the water heater is unsafe and should not be used. Do we have recourse against the home inspector? Frank

Dear Frank: The defining question in this situation is “What exactly is wrong with the water heater?” Without that information, it is not possible to fairly judge between the home inspector and the gasman.

A home inspector should disclose conditions that are visible at the time of the inspection, and with water heaters, the possibilities are numerous. For example, there could be rust damage in the burner compartment, a defective flue pipe, a detached flue baffle, a faulty gas connection, improper gas piping, an unstable platform, lack of a temperature pressure relief valve, flue contact with combustible materials, soot in the burner compartment or in the flue, a damaged or missing draft diverter, back-drafting of combustion exhaust, and so on. Some of these conditions would necessitate replacement of the water heater, while others would be repairable.

One possibility is that the water heater is so old (mid-1960s or earlier) that it does not have an orifice for installing a relief valve. Most water heaters of that age have long since found passage to the nearest landfill, but a few of these antiques are still in service and are in need of replacement. A defect of that nature would call for replacement of the fixture.

In most cases, the gas company specifies the nature of defects when they issue a “red tag” on any gas-burning fixture. If you check the tag, you’ll probably discover what they found. In any event, the home inspector should be contacted regarding reinspection and reconsideration of the water heater. If he missed a visible defect, he may be liable for repairs.

Problems With Bureaucrats & Water Heaters

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: Your comment about the building inspector who was “consumed with the zeal of high office” was so “spot on” and could be used in many situations. Many of us have dealt with variations of this person. Thanks for the smile it gave me. Mary Ann

Dear Mary Ann: A common problem with bureaucratic systems is that they tend to promote employees to their various levels of inefficiency. Once they reach the level at which they no longer do good work, they cease to be promoted. Instead, they remain in those positions until the day of retirement because most governmental systems preclude the likelihood of demotion or of being fired. Additionally, government employment can be a place of refuge for those whose talents are insufficient for the competitive demands of the marketplace. Bureaucracies also attract managers whose faulty decision making processes render them unacceptable to private employers whose main concern is customer satisfaction and a lucrative bottom line.

It should be emphasized, however, that not all bureaucrats are of this low caliber. There are many highly qualified people who also find themselves in government employment. But the percentage of sour apples in the bureaucratic barrel seems higher than one is likely to find in private business.