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

Home Inspector Cites Doubtful Deck Problem

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:I am selling my home, and everything was going smoothly until the buyer’s home inspector raised a needless issue about the deck. The inspection report says the deck and the roof above it must be attached to the house. I’ve gotten estimates from five different licensed deck contractors, and each of them said that the deck is well constructed and that attachment to the house is not required. My transaction with the buyer is now deadlocked over this issue. Do I have any recourse against the home inspector? Shouldn’t he have known that the deck is properly built?  Cathy

Dear Cathy: There are many home inspectors with questionable qualifications, some who are marginally experienced, some who overlook significant defects, and some who cite defects that are nonexistent. It may be that one of those people has inspected your home. If your transaction is deadlocked over this issue, you should insist that the home inspector cite the specific building requirement — chapter and verse — that was violated when your deck was built. If he cannot, then he should amend his report to show that the deck is properly constructed.

Home Inspector Misjudges Water Heater

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:We just closed escrow on a home, and the day we moved in we found a flooded basement because the water heater had failed. But four weeks ago, our home inspector said the water heater would be good for many more years. Our plumber disagreed. He said the fixture was 10 years old, was rusted at the bottom, and was well past its normal lifespan. We paid our inspector $450 to let us know what was wrong with the house and then had to spend twice as much for repairs on moving day. Is our home inspector liable for this mistake?  Faith

Dear Faith: Experienced home inspectors know better than to predict the remaining life of an old water heater. Those who break that rule expose themselves to needless liability.

Home inspectors routinely determine the age of a water heater by reading the serial number on the label. If your inspector had done this, he might not have predicted years of continued use for the fixture. In fact, most home inspectors typically report that an older unit may soon fail.

Aside from the age of the fixture, your home inspector should have noticed the rust at the bottom of the tank, a clear indication of age and of past leakage. It appears, therefore, that he did not conduct a thorough inspection of the fixture.

Before you replaced the water heater, you should have notified your home inspector of the problem and given him the opportunity to review the damage. Some home inspection contracts require that the inspector see the defects in question, otherwise the inspector is absolved of liability. On the other hand, a written statement from the plumber who replaced the water heater will provide evidence in your favor. But first you must contact the inspector and let him know that this problem has occurred.

The Seven Basics About Termites

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:We have lived in our home for 27 years, and for much of that time have found termite frass on various windowsills and at some of the doors.  My husband thinks that fumigation is a waste of money. He says termites can return as soon as the tent is removed from the house. He prefers to use insect spray whenever he sees the frass. I’m concerned that we might be neglecting a serious problem. Could you please explain how termites can affect the condition of a home and the best way to get rid of them?  Nina

Dear Nina: Here are the seven basics about termites:

1)  Termites continually reproduce. This means that old colonies have larger populations — with more mouths to feed — than young colonies. A colony that is 5 years old may contain several thousand termites. A colony that is 27 years old could number in the millions. Consider how much wood that many termites could eat in a day.

2)  Termites live within the recesses of the wood members that they consume. The damage that they do is not visible on the surface. They eat tunnels in the wood members that they inhabit until the outer veneer of the stud, joist, or rafter is all that is left.

3)  When termite tunnels become cluttered with frass (droppings), termites make small holes in the surface of the wood so that the frass particles can drop out. The frass that you see on your windowsills is a small sample, compared with the piles that might be found in the attic or behind the drywall.

4)  Insect sprays cannot penetrate into the wall cavities, framing members, or the attic spaces where termites live, eat, and multiply. The best way to eliminate termites is to have your home thoroughly fumigated. Postponing this process ensures continued consumption of the wood members of your home.

5)  A new crop of termites can invade your home soon after the fumigation is completed. But for several years, fledgling colonies remain small, and the amount of wood those termites can eat on a daily basis is trivial.

6)  Small, start-up colonies can be managed by having termite inspections every few years. If new colonies are discovered, localized treatment by a professional termite company may be an effective approach.

7) Most homes are sold every 5-10 years. Upon sale, a termite inspection is usually a standard part of the transaction. Therefore, most termite colonies have little chance to become highly populated. Significant termite damage usually occurs in homes that remain under the same ownership for decades because most homeowners seldom give termites a thought until they sell the property. Meanwhile, the termite colonies in these homes silently reproduce.

Your husband needs to rethink his approach to the termites in your home. What matters now is to eliminate the large, old colonies that are eating the structure of your home today and each day that you postpone treatment. The longer you wait, the more damage will be done by those hungry tunnel makers.

Requirements for a Legal Bedroom

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I am looking for the legal definition of a bedroom. I bought a house that was listed as a four-bedroom home. Two bedrooms are in the remodeled attic, with short, doorless alcoves for closets. And I’m not sure if these rooms are large enough to qualify as bedrooms. Can you help me to figure this out?  Christine

Dear Christine: Here are the basic requirements for a bedroom:
1)  A bedroom must be at least 70 square feet in area, with no dimension less than 7 feet.
2)  The ceiling must be at least 7 feet high above the finished floor. If the ceiling is sloped, 50% of it can be less than 7 feet, but no part of it should be less than 5 feet.
3)   There must be an openable window for light, ventilation, and fire escape. For light, the window size must be at least 8% of the floor area. For ventilation, the openable portion of the window must be at least 4% of the floor area. For fire escape, the window must be at least 5.7 square feet in area. The opening must have a minimum height of 24 inches, a minimum width of 20 inches, and a maximum sill height of 44 inches. (Note: There are additional window requirements for basement bedrooms, but this was discussed in previous articles.)
4)  Contrary to popular belief, no closet is required in a bedroom.

For Sale By Owner vs. Loyalty to Agent

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: Our Realtor has been showing us listings for several weeks. But last week, we found a for-sale-by-owner property and made an offer to the owner without calling our agent. Since our Realtor spent so much time trying to find a house for us, are we obligated to involve him in this purchase?  Rob

Dear Rob: This type of situation is a sore spot with many real estate professionals. Your Realtor devoted many hours to your search for a home and now will receive nothing for those efforts. Unless you have a contract with him, you are under no obligation. However, most agents feel that the time and effort they spend showing property to a prospective client warrants some loyalty.

The seller in this case is clearly under no obligation to pay a real estate commission, nor is it likely that he would be willing to pay one. So there’s probably no way to involve your Realtor in the current transaction.

The most fair and respectful way to have handled this situation would have been to inform your Realtor of your interest in the property, rather than contacting the seller directly. The Realtor could then have called the seller and said, “I have clients who are interested in your home. Would you be willing to pay a reduced commission if I bring you an offer?” At that point, the seller could have accepted or declined. If he had declined, you would have been free to make your own offer, without misgivings between you and your agent.

At this point, you can choose whether or not to inform your Realtor of the decision you have made. Expressing your concern and extending your apologies would probably be more respectful than to say nothing at all.