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

Home Inspector Didn’t Report Wood Rot

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:We purchased our home about six months ago, and the home inspector said nothing about wood rot. I recently discovered rotted eave boards when I was repainting the exterior. Shouldn’t this have been reported by our home inspector?  John

Dear John:  Wood rot is caused by fungus. In most states, inspection for wood destroying organisms such as fungus is not within the scope of a home inspection. Damage of this kind is typically covered by a licensed pest control operator, commonly known as a termite inspector. You should check your records to see if there was a pest report when you purchased the property. If so, call that company and ask them to re-inspect the eaves around your home.

Installing Dual Pane Windows

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We have old steel frame windows in our home and would like to minimize heat loss. Rather than install dual-pane replacement windows, we’d like to install inside windows and leave the old windows in place. This might not look as good, but we don’t want the mess and expense of removing the old windows. Do you think this is a good idea?  Walter

Dear Walter:  Adding interior windows will reduce some heat loss from your home, but vinyl-frame, dual-pane replacement windows will do this much more effectively and with much less mess that you expect.

Removal of the old windows does not involve removing the frames from the walls. When replacement windows are installed, the old glass and dividers are taken out, but not the frames that are embedded the siding. The replacement windows are installed over the old metal frames.

Before deciding which way to go, check out the prices for replacement windows, and discuss the replacement procedures with the window installer.

What To Do After Your Home Inspection

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:We are buying a house. The home inspection is scheduled for next week, but we’re not sure what to do once we get the report. Is the inspection report just for our information, or can we use it to negotiate with the sellers? Can we walk away from the deal if we don’t like the report, or are we obligated to go ahead with the purchase? What can you tell us about this?  Alan

Dear Alan:  A home inspection empowers you with essential options as a buyer, but with some limitations. In the majority of home sales, the deal is contingent upon the buyers’ acceptance of the home inspection report.  This means that you, as buyer, have a specified number of days to accept or decline the property in “as is” condition.  If you decline acceptance, you have four basic choices:

1)             Ask the sellers to make a few repairs;

2)             Ask the sellers to make many repairs;

2)             Ask the sellers to reduce the sales price;

3)             Decline to purchase the property.

If you request repairs or a price adjustment, based upon the home inspection report, the sellers also have choices.  They can:

1)            Agree to all of your requests;

2)            Agree to some of your requests;

3)            Agree to none of your requests;

4)            Tell you to take it as-is or to take a walk

The sellers’ only obligation is to address defects that are named in the purchase contact or required by state and local laws.  If the contract specifies an “as is” sale, the sellers may refuse to make repairs of any kind or to adjust the price in any way.  Lawful exceptions may include strapping water heaters for earthquake safety, providing smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in specified locations, or upgrading plumbing fixtures for water conservation.

As long as you are in the contingency period of your transaction, the choice to buy the property or to walk away from the deal is entirely yours. This is your discovery period, the time to learn what you are buying and to decide whether to proceed with the purchase or to renegotiate the terms of the sale.

Home Inspector Delivers Report Too Late

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I recently purchased a home and hired a home inspector while there was still time to negotiate with the seller. But the inspector took four days to prepare the inspection report, and by that time the negotiation period under contract had expired. My choice at that point was to buy the property as-is or lose  my deposit. Since then, I have been told that the report should have been delivered within 24 hours. If that is so, shouldn’t the home inspector refund the money that I paid him?  Beverly

Dear Beverly:  In most states, there is no law declaring how soon a home inspection report should be delivered, but the standard of practice among home inspectors is to provide a report on the day of the inspection or the very next day. The reasons for prompt delivery should be obvious to every home inspector. Time is of the essence in a real estate transaction. Buyers have a limited time period for negotiation or for rescission of the contract. Home inspectors are aware of these constraints, unless they have been living in a vacuum, and should provide the kind of professional service that considers the needs of their clients and the importance of timeliness.

A four-day delay in processing an inspection report is inexcusable negligence and is reasonable grounds for requesting a refund of the inspection fee, especially since that delay prevented you from making beneficial use of the report. If the inspector has any sense of professional responsibility, he will not hesitate in providing that refund.

Problems of this kind are among several reasons why attending a home inspection is so important for homebuyers. When you accompany your inspector, you can discuss the findings, ask questions, and learn about the condition of the property before you receive the written report.

In some cases, there are circumstances that prevent a buyer from attending the inspection. A buyer may live too far away to attend or may be unable to get time off from work. When attendance is not possible, the inspection findings should be reviewed by phone later in the day. Then the buyer can proceed with negotiations before the written report is received.

Unfortunately, there are some home inspectors who prefer to work without buyers present and routinely send their reports without a verbal review. Inspectors of this type should find another line of work, and homebuyers should avoid such inspectors in every case. Home inspection is not just a technical process; it is a business in which the needs of customers are served.

A final issue in this situation is the role of your real estate agent, assuming that you had an agent. Part of a Realtor’s responsibility is to coordinate the various aspects of the transaction; to ensure that things take place in accordance with the purchase contract. If the contract sets a time limit on negotiating the findings in a home inspection report, then the agent should pressure the inspector to produce that report before the due date expires. If the inspector fails to meet his responsibility, the agent should submit a request to extend the negotiation period.

If your home inspector is not willing to issue a refund, your agent should exert some persuasion on your behalf. Hopefully, one or both of them will have the professional integrity to meet these responsibilities.

Should a Contractor Do Your Home Inspection?

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:I am planning to buy a home but don’t know who the home inspectors are in my area. On the other hand, I have a good friend who is a licensed general contractor, and he has offered to do my home inspection for free. He is a very experienced builder with vast construction knowledge, and I would expect that he can do as thorough a job of inspecting a home as anyone in the inspection business. Is there any reason why I should not have him do my home inspection?  Seth

Dear Seth:  Hiring a general contractor to do a home inspection seems reasonable to anyone who does not know the scope and processes involved in home inspection, but a contractor inspection can be a costly mistake. A home inspection is not a walkthrough evaluation by someone who knows how to build a house. That is something that many homebuyers, especially first-time homebuyers, do not realize when they are faced with your choice. Home inspection involves skills, practices, and knowledge that are not essential to the process of construction, and this in no way minimizes the respectability of qualified contractors.

Most home inspectors start out as contractors who enter the home inspection profession and gradually learn to conduct thorough inspections. That learning process takes a few years and involves a very large number of home inspections. A basic apprenticeship in home inspection usually requires about 1000 inspections. Those who have done fewer than 1000 are likely to resent this opinion. Those who have done more than 1000 are sure to agree with it.

Home inspection is a process of investigation and discovery. Contracting is a process of mechanical skills and management. Although building knowledge is essential to the practice of home inspection, construction itself has little or no relation to the practice of forensic analysis. A home inspector is an investigator — a property detective – someone who observes and evaluates defects. The skills essential to a thorough home inspection are unique, are refined by years of practice, and are not essential to the process of building construction.

The focus of a home inspection is not merely the quality of construction, but the overall level of maintenance versus deterioration of the property, the operability and shortcomings of fixtures, compliance with numerous safety standards, the projected longevity of various materials and components, old versus new standards of construction, and much more.

Just as a traffic patrolman is not a crime detective; just as your family physician is not a medical pathologist; likewise, home inspectors are diagnostic specialists, distinct from professionals in the building trades.

What matters most when you choose a home inspector is to find someone who has done many inspections and has a reputation for thoroughness. If you need some referrals, call some of the real estate offices in your area and ask them who are the nit-pickiest inspectors. Those inspectors are the contractors you should consider before you buy a home.