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

Dispute Over Wood Rot & Purchase Deposit

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We just hired a home inspection for the house that we may buy, and this raised a dispute with the sellers. The inspector found rotted framing below the porch and living room, but he did not list this as a major defect. The sellers say we cannot cancel the deal without losing our deposit because the purchase contract allows cancellation for major defects only. What should we do? Larah

Dear Larah: Home inspectors rarely specify whether a defect is major or minor because that kind of judgment is often subjective. A defect that is major to one buyer might be minor to someone else. In the case of wood rot, two variables directly affect that assessment: 1) the extent of the damage and; 2) the cost to repair.

If large portions of the porch and floor framing are damaged, then the condition cannot be described as minor. Besides this, dryrot is not a static condition. It is caused by fungus infection that spreads further into the wood members whenever moisture is present. If left unchecked, small amounts of rot can become very major. This means that replacement of rotted wood is an immediate necessity.

This leads, of course, to the question of expense. If the repair costs are major, then the rot cannot regarded as a minor defect. To resolve this debate, you should get three bids from licensed contractors for replacement of the affected framing. Hopefully, the repairs will not be too costly and you can proceed with the purchase of the home. Otherwise, you should be entitled to a refund of your deposit.

Home Inspector Accused of Collusion

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: Before we bought our home, we hired a home inspector, but he didn’t report any of the major problems in the house. Now we have to repair the plumbing, the electrical wiring, and the roof. When he did the inspection, he said everything was OK, but he was just lying, and we think he may have gotten a big tip from the seller or the agent. He was supposed to be working for us. Why would a home inspector do business this way?  Beatriz

Dear Beatriz: To assume that a home inspector took a bribe is a big jump. When home inspectors fail to report defects, the problem is usually negligence or professional incompetence, not willful collusion with sellers or agents. Unfortunately, there are more than a few home inspectors who are just plain inexperienced or not adequately skilled as inspectors. Because of this, many homebuyers do not receive adequate disclosure. To make matters worse, there are many agents who recommend such inspectors to their clients.

The first thing you should do is have your home reinspected, but this time you should find an inspector with many years of experience and a reputation for thoroughness. To gather some leads, call a few real estate offices and ask for the most “nit-picky” home inspector in town. Tell them you want a home inspector who is known as a “deal breaker.” That’s the misnomer that some agents apply to the best inspectors.

A second report from a truly qualified home inspector will reveal the actual condition of your home and will provide a more complete list of the issues that were missed by the first inspector. Then you can notify the first inspector of your concerns and ask if he has errors and omissions insurance. Hopefully, he will be willing to address your concerns.

Gas Water Heater Unsafe in Bathroom

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: When we bought our house, the home inspector found no problems with the water heater. On moving day, the gas man had a different story. Instead of lighting the pilot, he capped off the gas and said it is illegal to have a gas water heater in a bathroom. He advised moving it to another location or replacing it with an electric water heater. The seller says he installed the water heater himself and that the previous water heater was in the same location. Is the seller required to move or replace the water heater since he is the one who installed it, or is this our problem?  Lauren

Dear Lauren: Your home inspector should have reported this problem. It is common knowledge among experienced inspectors that gas-fueled water heaters are prohibited in bathrooms. You should notify your inspector of the situation and request a reinspection. The seller, on the other hand, may be liable for installing a water heater without a permit, but most homeowners are unaware that permits are required for water heater replacement.

The purpose of a permit for water heater installations is to insure compliance with pertinent plumbing and safety codes, including the prohibition against placement in a bathroom. If the seller did not obtain a permit, he is in no position to defend the quality of the installation. This does not mean that he is contractually obligated, as a seller, to correct the problem, but you have a reasonable basis for demanding that he do so.

Water heaters are prohibited in bathrooms for two reasons: 1) Faulty exhaust venting can contaminate the air, causing asphyxiation; 2) Inadequate combustion air supply can reduce the oxygen level in the room. Either of these would be very dangerous for someone relaxing in a tub of hot water.

The code requirement is clear. Its intent is to save lives. The gas man was right. The water heater should be moved or replaced with an electric one.