The House Detective: by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector
Dear Barry: When we bought our home, we hired a home inspector who was recommended by our real estate agent. The inspection report contained what appeared to be two minor disclosures: “minor lean to the home” and “some minor seepage in the basement during heavy rain.” The only recommendation was “monitor for further movement.” After we moved in, the rains came, and none of this turned out to be “minor.” For nearly three months, we had a foot of water in the basement. The contractor we hired found that the house is leaning nearly 9 inches. Leveling the home and fixing the drainage will cost many thousands of dollars. We do not believe our home inspector did a competent job. Instead, he portrayed major defects as no big deal. Who is liable for the repairs, and what can we do about it? Tim
Dear Tim: There are two problems with the disclosures in the home inspection report: 1) Conditions such as leaning of a building and water intrusion in a basement should not be presumed to be minor; and 2) Such conditions warrant further evaluation by qualified experts. Faulty drainage should have been reviewed by a geotechnical engineer. Leaning of the building called for analysis by a structural engineer. What you needed was someone who is licensed in both fields of engineering.
Instead of recommending that you “monitor for further movement,” the inspection report should have said, “Further evaluation by a qualified, licensed engineer is recommended prior to close of transaction.” Your home inspector’s job was to point out significant defects and to make appropriate recommendations. Building settlement is obviously a major concern, as is water intrusion into the building. Determining the extent of these issues was not something to be done by monitoring movement after you purchased the property. You were in the process of making an important purchase decision. That was why you hired a home inspector. He should have considered this when making his recommendation.
Your home inspector may be liable for faulty disclosure, depending on the inspection contract that you signed and pertinent laws in your state. An attorney should evaluate those issues.
The sellers of the property may also share some liability. If they lived in the home for more than a year, they were probably aware of the drainage problem in the basement and should have disclosed it. And here’s a question for your real estate agent: Was this the most qualified inspector the agent knew? Some agents recommend the best home inspectors; some do not.