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

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I recently bought my first home and was extremely proud of myself because I’m just 23 years old. I found an older home that needed some work and hired a home inspector who was recommended by my Realtor. The inspector found a few minor problems, so I bought the house. But 5 months later, the heating system failed. The repairman said the heat exchanger was cracked and was giving off carbon monoxide. If my home inspector had told me this, I could have had the sellers replace the furnace, or I could have bought another house. What can I do now? Julie

Dear Julie: If you haven’t already replaced the damaged furnace, you should contact your home inspector immediately and request a reinspection of the heating system. If the crack or any related defects are visible and accessible, then the home inspector would be liable for failing to disclose those conditions.

In many cases, cracks in a heat exchanger are located within the dark recesses of a furnace and are not visible to a home inspector. Sometimes, however, there are symptoms that can alert a home inspector to potential problems with the heat exchanger, such as irregular flame pattern, abnormal flame color, or soot near warm air registers or inside the flue pipe.

The big question, therefore, is whether faulty furnace conditions were visible at the time of the inspection. If so, then the inspector would bear some liability for negligence. Be aware, however, that the degree of liability could be limited by the wording of the inspection contract, by state laws, and by the inspector’s willingness to take responsibility for the consequences of a professional error.

Dear Barry: We are first-time homebuyers and have made an offer on the condo we are presently renting. We’re trying to decide whether to get a home inspection, and several friends have advised us to save our money. They say we can do away with it because the condo is priced very low and the equity will more than cover the cost of needed repairs. Are we taking a big risk if we buy without having an inspection? Jean

Dear Jean: My email box is littered with laments from homebuyers who bought homes without having them inspected. In many cases, their decisions were based on well-meaning advice from friends and relatives or inexcusable advice from misguided agents.
The reasons given for bypassing an inspection are numerous and always erroneous. For example, your friends say the equity in your condo will enable you to pay for needed repairs. But how will you know what those repairs are if you don’t hire a qualified home inspector? If there are problems with the electrical wiring, the plumbing, or the heating system, symptoms may not be evident until serious consequences occur.

Regardless of low price and high equity, you need to know the true condition of the home you are buying. You need to know that systems are not only functional, but safe and in compliance with applicable building standards. You’re preparing to buy a commodity that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. Spend a few hundred dollars to protect that investment. But before you do, be sure to find the most qualified and experienced home inspector available.