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

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: When we bought our house, the home inspector said the bricks in the fireplace needed to be repointed. He said this meant filling in the gaps in the brick mortar. But a lot more turned out to be wrong with the fireplace, and we think he should have disclosed these issues. A few months ago we called a brick mason to repoint the firebricks. He said the entire chimney is unstable, the portion above the roof is crumbling, and water leakage occurs when it rains. The quote to rebuild the chimney is $12,000, and we would have negotiated this with the seller if we had known. Do we have any recourse against the home inspector? Jennifer

Dear Jennifer: From your description of the chimney, it would seem that the defects should have been apparent to a competent home inspector. If he inspected the roof, which would be standard procedure unless the roof was inaccessible, he should have seen the chimney up close. If he couldn’t get onto the roof, he should have viewed the chimney from the ground; preferably with binoculars. If he did a thorough inspection, he should also have inspected the attic, and this should have enabled a close-up inspection of a portion of the chimney and might have revealed the water stains caused by rain leakage. The interior of the chimney could also have been inspected from inside the firebox, with the aid of an inspection mirror and flashlight.

When firebricks need to be repointed, there are usually additional defects that warrant evaluation by a brick mason or a certified chimney sweep. A competent inspector, when reporting crumbling mortar in a firebox, will usually recommend further evaluation of the entire system by a qualified fireplace specialist, not merely repointing of the bricks.

It appears, therefore, that your home inspector could be liable for failure to disclose visible defects that were within the scope of a home inspection. You should notify him of these conditions and request a reinspection of the fireplace. If he has errors and omissions insurance, a claim may need to be filed.

Dear Barry: We are purchasing a bank-owned home, built in 1953. It is in horrible condition and needs to be demolished. When we talked to the county building department, they said that the asbestos had to be removed prior to the demolition. We have heard that the seller is responsible for removing asbestos. Is this true? If not, how much will it cost to have it removed? Michelle

Dear Michelle: Sellers are not required to remove asbestos, and when the sellers are banks, they are not even required to provide disclosure of property conditions.

Asbestos removal in a residence is only required when remodeling or demolition occurs, and the cost can be high if much asbestos is involved. However, you need to determine where the asbestos materials are, if there are actually any at all. Therefore, an asbestos survey by a certified asbestos inspector should be your next step. If the inspector finds asbestos, you should get bids from licensed asbestos abatement contractors to determine the likely costs of removal.