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

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: When I bought my home, the seller paid for the home inspection. That was a red flag that I failed to heed. Now that I’ve moved into the home, it’s clear that the inspector, who was recommended by the real estate agent, was working for the seller’s interests, not mine. The fireplace was not even included in the inspection, and a chimney sweep has now discovered loose bricks, requiring $300 of repair. And yesterday, I learned that the debris on the skylights is actually dried tape, used to seal the cracks and to secure the loose frames. The cost to replace the five bad skylights will be nearly $800. I should have hired my own home inspector, someone who would look out for my interests. Is there any recourse for me at this point? Helen

Dear Helen: Complaints about substandard home inspections are among the most common subjects in my email inbox. In most cases, however, faulty inspections occur when inspectors are unqualified and inexperienced; not because of deliberate intentions by inspectors to favor the interests of sellers. Reports of inspectors who compromise disclosure for the sake of agent referrals are often heard, but in my experience such inspectors are rare. Most home inspectors are painfully aware of the legal and financial liability associated with incomplete disclosure and are unwilling to take such risks for fraudulant short-term gains. In fact, there are many home inspectors who would inspect a home with the same degree of thoroughness whether the inspection were being done for the buyer, the seller, or the inspector’s own family.

In your case, the inspector, regardless of motives, appears to have done a very substandard inspection. Fireplaces are included in the Standards of Practice of all recognized home inspector associations, such as the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) and the National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI). Failure to inspect the fireplace indicates a significant lack of professionalism. Equally problematic is the inspector’s failure to identify the defective skylights. This should have been part of the roof inspection, also specified in the Standards of Practice for the profession.

The responsibility for the inadequate inspection is shared, of course, by the agent who recommended the inspector. Real estate professionals are familiar with the inspectors who work in their areas of business. They know which inspectors perform thorough and comprehensive evaluations of homes. Fortunately, there are agents who routinely recommend the best inspectors. Unfortunately, there are other agents who view such inspectors as “deal killers” and who avoid those inspectors when making referrals to clients.
Before you take action regarding the lack of disclosure, have your home reinspected by someone who is truly qualified. This will probably inform you of additional defects, not yet discovered and not reported by the seller’s inspector. Try to find an inspector with many years of experience and a reputation for comprehensive thoroughness. Once you have a detailed report, you’ll be able to address these issues with the sellers, the agent, and the sellers’ home inspector.