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

Should We Tell Our Home Inspector About the Mold?

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We’re about to buy a six-year-old home that originally had a mold problem. Fortunately, the builder removed all of the affected materials from the building. If we buy this home, are we required to disclose the initial mold issue to our home inspector, or should we wait to see if he notices any evidence of mold?  Jack

Dear Lars: What possible advantage could there be in withholding information that would assist your home inspector in evaluating the property you are buying? The inspector is your hired consultant; there for your exclusive benefit; to provide you with essential decision-making data. Any information or other assistance you can provide toward full evaluation of the property is to your advantage. If the property has a history of mold, let your inspector know about it. That way, pertinent moisture conditions and related defects can be carefully considered and evaluated during the inspection.

Testing your inspector, rather than lending your trust and assistance can have costly consequences. Here’s a true story that illustrates the point: The buyers of a home had been told the property was located within a flood plane, but they never mentioned this to their home inspector. The inspector observed no evidence of potential flooding and therefore made no disclosure of it in his report. The buyers therefore dismissed the issue of possible flooding and proceeded with the purchase. After the close of escrow, the first heavy rains caused ground water to flood the interior of their home. They blamed the home inspector for this “surprise” and filed a lawsuit for nondisclosure, even though they had withheld prior knowledge of flood potential on the day of the inspection.

If you alert your home inspector to the history of mold infection, then potential moisture sources such as plumbing leaks, roof leaks, and ground drainage problems can be given particular attention during the inspection. By withholding that disclosure, there is greater likelihood that a significant issue could be missed.

Be aware also that home inspectors do not make determinations regarding the presence of mold. Since the property has a mold history, you would be prudent to hire a mold expert to affirm that there is no residual mold infection in the building.

No Disclosure in Trustee Sale

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We bought a home from a family trust. The previous owners had died, and their adult children were selling the property. As trustees of the estate, they were not required to disclose any defects. But a major ground drainage problem was revealed after we moved in, and we’ve learned from the neighbors that the trustees and their Realtor were fully aware of it. The main symptom has been water in the warm air ducts below the slab floor. This was discovered by the first termite inspector who checked the property; so the Realtor hired another termite inspector. The second inspector failed to disclose the water problem, and the agent only gave us the second report for disclosure. Unfortunately, our home inspector also missed the problem because he never looked into the floor registers. Now he tells us that removing the register grills is outside the scope of a home inspection. We’re trying to sort out who is responsible for this mess and would like your opinion in the matter.  Lars

Dear Lars: “This mess” involves two separate disclosure problems: Willful concealment by the sellers and their agent and professional negligence on the part of the home inspector.

The trustee/sellers may be legally exempt from disclosure requirements because they were not the occupants of the property. But there is more to be considered than the letter of the law. The intent of the law is to require disclosure of known defects. If the sellers knew about the ground water problem and its effect on the air ducts, disclosure should have been made on the basis of ethics and common decency, regardless of legal requirements.

The real estate agent is totally without excuse. The central point of ethics within the real estate profession is the requirement for full disclosure of all known defects. Exemptions for the sellers do not relieve their agent from this responsibility. If the agent was aware of a particular problem and failed to disclose it, that agent can be liable for damages and for legal sanctions by the state licensing authority. In this case, the agent is particularly culpable because the first termite report, the one that revealed the water problem in the ducts, was deliberately withheld from disclosure. Furthermore, that report can now be used as evidence against that agent.

Finally, there is the matter of your home inspector. He maintains that he is not required to remove grills from heat registers. Strictly speaking, this assertion is correct. Dismantling of building components is not within the scope of a home inspection. However, a truly competent home inspector makes a reasonable effort to inspect areas of potential concern. Air ducts beneath a slab should always be viewed as a potential moisture problem because they may be exposed to wet soil. Heat registers can be inspected quite easily by opening the louvers and shining a flashlight through them. Removing the grills is not necessary in most cases. However, floor grills are usually not fastened and often can be lifted as easily as opening a cabinet door.

All parties who might have provided disclosure failed to perform. The sellers and home inspector may have talking points to the contrary, but no one, particularly the agent, can walk away clean from this situation.

Should Commercial Properties Be Inspected?

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I’ve made a purchase offer on a four-unit commercial property. Do investors typically hire home inspectors for this kind of property?  Don

Dear Don:  The purchasers of commercial properties often overlook the importance of a professional inspection — a surprising omission for a major investment of this kind. Yet the same buyers would never purchase a home without a detailed physical evaluation. For some reason, there is a perceived difference between residential and commercial properties where defect disclosure is involved.

Commercial buildings are prone to all the same defects likely to be found in a residence: roof problems, issues with plumbing, electrical, and heating systems, faulty site drainage, foundation settlement, safety glass violations, trip hazards, and more.

The bottom line is clear: Commercial real estate is expensive. It pays to know what you’re buying before you buy it. Buying commercial property without a professional inspection a risky way to do business. A qualified inspector can provide valuable disclosure to prudent buyers of commercial real estate.