The House Detective: by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector
Dear Barry: I recently made a purchase offer on a house. The seller’s disclosure statement listed no defects, but the offer was contingent on a clean home inspection report. So I hired a home inspector and also ordered an appraisal for a total cost of $700. When I read the inspection report, I couldn’t believe the number of major issues that needed attention, from standing water under the building to rotted wood on the roof. Because of this, I’ve decided not to buy the house. Since the seller’s disclosure statement listed no defect, is he liable for the money I spent on the inspection and appraisal? Dan
Dear Dan: Unless you can prove that the seller concealed known defects in the disclosure statement, he is not responsible to reimburse your costs. The purchase contract was contingent on your acceptance of the home inspection report. Therefore, your only options are to cancel the transaction or renegotiate the contract.
Reliance on seller disclosure statements is usually disappointing. In most cases, disclosure statements are worth less than the squares of toilet tissue they might have been printed on. A home inspection report, if properly prepared by a qualified professional, will always reveal more than a disclosure statement.
In most cases, sellers are simply unaware of defects in their homes, although there are instances where sellers deliberately conceal known defects. The seller in your case may never have looked under the building and may have been totally unaware of the drainage problem. Likewise, he probably never walked on the roof or crawled through the attic, and therefore had no idea that the wood was rotted.
It is unfortunate that you hired an appraiser before you reviewed the home inspection report. The appraisal should have been done after you considered the physical condition of the property. That would have limited your nonrefundable expenses.
Dear Barry: When we bought our home, the sellers prevented our home inspector from inspecting the attic. They simply told him that there was no access, and he merely confirmed this in his inspection report. We later discovered that the access was on the wall of the master closet, behind some clothes. Our concern now is whether we have asbestos insulation in our attic. If so, are the sellers liable for asbestos removal? Kim
Dear Kim: The sellers must have known about the access panel in the closet, although they may not have realized it was the entry to the attic. On the other hand, there may have been some attic issues that they wanted to hide. The answers to these questions may never be known. The main focus now is to inspect the attic for possible defects.
Asbestos in the attic is only likely if the home dates back to the early 1970’s. At that time, asbestos was used for air duct insulation and for flue pipes. It was not used, however, to insulate attic spaces. Attic insulation typically consists of fiberglass, rock wool, or recycled cellulose.
The one error that was made by your home inspector was to confirm the lack of an access with no further comment. The disclosure in the inspection report should have been: “No attic access was found. It is recommended that an access be made to enable completion of this inspection.” (or words to that effect)