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

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I hired a home inspector before buying my house. He was supposed to find the defects. After moving in, I discovered that the shower in the basement has no drain connection. During the inspection, the inspector turned the shower on briefly, but he didn’t find any problem with it. Now it appears that the shower is a manufactured stall that was set in place on the basement floor, connected to the water lines, but not to the sewer drain system. Instead, it is located near a clogged floor drain. The first time I used the shower, the water ran onto the basement floor and began to rise. I’ve called the former owner, but he denies any knowledge of the problem. The plumber’s estimate to repair this mess is about $3000. Do I have recourse against the former owner or the home inspector? Sharon

Dear Sharon: Before we consider recourse, let’s review this lack of disclosure. The seller claims he was unaware that the shower drains onto the basement floor. To accept this, we must believe that the shower was never used or even cleaned during the time that he owned the property.

Equally surprising is the home inspector’s failure to identify the drain problem during a professional inspection. To gain some perspective on this lack of discovery, we should review the normal procedures for a shower inspection. Although not all inspectors employ the same sequence of techniques, a thorough shower inspection would be somewhat as follows:

The inspector begins by verifying that hot water is plumbed to the left side of the faucet. The shower, therefore, must run long enough for hot water to reach the showerhead. All the while, water is flowing down the drain. When the hot water has arrived, the inspector adjusts the shower to a normal mixture of hot and cold. With warm water flowing from the head, the toilet is flushed and the sink faucet is turned on to check for variations in flow and temperature at the shower. Had your home inspector conducted this type of inspection, water would have been visible and rising on the basement floor. If he did not see water on the floor, then the extent of his evaluation must have been very limited.

As for recourse, here are some suggestions: Invite the home inspector to reinspect your shower, and ask him to explain why the lack of a drain connection was not discovered during his initial inspection. Notify the seller again, but this time in writing and by certified mail. Inform him that his lack of disclosure is unacceptable and that full payment for drain repair is expected. If neither is willing to address the problem, you can file a complaint in small claims court. If you choose that path, spend an hour with an attorney for advice on your presentation in court.

To strengthen your case, have your home reinspected by a home inspector who has many years of experience and a reputation for thoroughness. Call several real estate offices in the area and ask who is the most nit-picky of all the local home inspectors. A reinspection may reveal additional defects not found by the first home inspector.