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

Phone Book Referrals for Inspectors

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: In one of your columns, a buyer was annoyed that her agent would not recommend a home inspector by name. I’m a Realtor, and our company has a policy against recommending any service providers, and that includes termite inspectors and home inspectors. We simply hand our clients the yellow pages and point out the section where inspectors are listed. Past experience has shown us that this is the safest way to do business. If a home inspector that we recommend makes a mistake, we could be sued for making that referral. We’d like to provide the kind of personal service that includes a list of reliable contractors and inspectors, but our hands are tied by fears of litigation; much to our dismay and disappointment. How do you view this position?  Jennifer

Dear Jennifer: Your fear of litigation is understandable and is shared by many; not just in the real estate profession, but by nearly everyone in business; from grocers to doctors; from plumbers to engineers; from teachers to musicians. Trial attorneys, for whatever reasons, good or bad, have removed from our society the trust that was once communicated by a promise and a handshake. Instead, we have pages of fine-print legalese that no ordinary person can understand. Yet none of these documents eliminates the likelihood of lawsuits: They merely provide talking points for that dreaded day in court. But there are still ways of operating in this defensive business environment, without abandoning the kind of personal service that we prefer to offer in good faith to our customers.

The phone book approach to home inspector referrals may not provide the liability protection that Realtors seek. In fact, it may pose a higher level of exposure to tort liability. The problem with a yellow page selection is that a buyer may randomly hire a home inspector who has very limited experience; someone who is not very thorough or qualified and who may fail to disclose significant property defects. If a buyer chooses a mediocre home inspector from the phone book and the agent fails to give warning — to point out that there are better home inspectors — that agent could be vulnerable to a lawsuit, without having made a referral.

Fortunately, there is a safer middle ground between recommending a home inspector or supplying a phone book. Instead, you can provide a list of the most qualified home inspectors in the area and let your buyers choose an inspector from that list. In fact, you could ask a number of local home inspectors to submit a one-page flier outlining their professional credentials and their levels of experience in the inspection business. A packet of these fliers could then be given to every homebuyer. Buyers could select their own inspector, but their choice would be an educated one, based on information that would facilitate a more thorough inspection and, therefore, less liability. Run that idea up the flagpole at your next staff meeting and see if anyone salutes it.

What to do with a flooded crawlspace

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I recently discovered about 3 to 4 inches of standing water under my house. I pumped out the water and removed the plastic sheets that covered the ground so the soil can dry out. Once the ground is dry, should I spread lime over the surface to help prevent mold? And should I also reinstall the plastic sheets?  Steve

Dear Steve: Mold prevention is not necessary unless you have moisture on cellulose materials. Wet soil will not support mold growth, so there’s no need for lime on the ground.

The purpose of the plastic membrane is to prevent ground moisture from evaporating and causing humidity and condensation in the crawlspace. If faulty ground drainage causes flooding above the plastic, then the plastic serves no useful purpose and does not need to be replaced.

The primary concern in this case is the drainage problem. To solve this, you should have the property evaluated by a geotechnical engineer to determine the water source and the best means of preventing future water intrusion. The engineer might recommend french drains around your home, a sump pump under or around the building, regrading of the ground around the building, or possibly la combination of these. Once this is done, replacement of the plastic membrane may be advisable, but additional foundation vents might also be needed to minimize humidity and condensation.

Finally, you should have the structural framing and subfloor inspected for fungus/dryrot or other moisture-related damage. In subareas with high humidity, rotted wood is common, and repairs can be very costly.