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

Home Inspector Pans Remodeled Home

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:  We’re selling our house after spending $150K on a complete remodel. The place is in excellent shape, but the buyers’ home inspection report was hideous! The inspector said the toilets are loose and need new seals, but they were installed less than a year ago, and we can’t budge them. He also said the framing is rotted under the house, but we’ve had all of that repaired. When we asked why there were no foundation photos in the report, he said he “didn’t want to get his camera dirty.” We think the inspector wrote a bad report to help the buyers negotiate a lower price. Another related problem is that we wanted to be home during this inspection, but the buyers’ agent said it was illegal for us to be in the house when the inspection was being done. This is such a mess, but we don’t know what to do. What do you recommend?  Randi

Dear Randi:  If the home inspector’s findings are questionable, you should state your concerns in writing to the buyers, and the inspector should verify his findings with photos. If he doesn’t want to get his camera dirty, he should cover it with a plastic bag while he is under the house, or perhaps he can borrow your camera. Either way, he should show exactly what he saw regarding the alleged wood rot.

It is also wise to hire your own home inspector to provide a second opinion of the property’s condition. If the reports agree, you can have the defects repaired. It they differ, the one whose finding agree with the photos wins. If the buyers back out of the deal, the second inspection report will help to provide disclosure to future buyers.

As for the Realtor: The idea that it is illegal for you to be in your own home during a home inspection is preposterous. It is your home. You own it. You have the right to be there any time you want, regardless of home inspections or other circumstances. The agent can request that you not be home during the inspection, but no one can legally compel you to leave your home.

Agent Advises Buyers Not to Attend Home Inspection

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:  We are in escrow to buy a home, and we hired the home inspector who was chosen by our real estate agent. When my husband asked if he could attend the inspection, our agent told him there was no need to attend and that most home buyers don’t. Not knowing any better, we agreed to hire her inspector and simply wait for the report. Since then, we’ve read articles that say an agent should give buyers a list of home inspectors from which to make their own choice. Now we want to hire an inspector of our own to do a second inspection, but we don’t want to offend our agent. At the same time, we don’t want to buy a money pit because we didn’t get a good inspection. What do you advise?  Jenn

Dear Jenn:  Choosing the inspector for you, rather than allowing you to choose for yourselves, may or may not have been a bad thing. Some agents choose inspectors who are competent and highly qualified, while other agents choose inspectors whose work is not very thorough. Likewise, there are agents who give their clients a list of competent home inspectors, while other agents provide lists of the less qualified.

Your agent’s big mistake was advising you and your husband not to attend the inspection. Agents who are honest and ethical do not give that kind of misleading advice to clients. Your presence at the home inspection was more than just a good idea: It was essential. You are on the verge of making an extremely high-cost investment. The home inspector was there for one purpose — to educate you about the condition of the property so that you could make a prudent purchase decision.

In advising you not to attend the inspection, your agent has limited your exposure to the information you need from your inspector. Again, that is not something that an ethical agent would do.

A second inspection by a home inspector of your choice is not a bad idea, and you shouldn’t worry about whether this is objectionable to your agent. It was her job to protect your financial interests. If she is not performing that duty, then you should do it for yourselves.

Home Inspector Makes Suspicious Mold Disclosure

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:  Our home recently fell out of escrow, and the circumstances were very suspicious. The buyers hired a home inspector who reported that we have mold. We were unable to see any mold, but the inspector said it was only visible with a special flashlight. We agreed to remove the mold ourselves, but the buyers said they wanted it done by a professional. Lo and behold, the home inspector was also in that line of work – for a fee of $1500. While we were negotiating this, the buyers cancelled the sale. What do you think of this situation?  Valerie

Dear Valerie:  The fact that the home inspector was ready to remove mold that no one else could see is highly suspect. Furthermore, it is a conflict of interest for a home inspector to perform repair work on a home that he has inspected. To do so violates the codes of ethics of every home inspector association.

The main issue for now is to determine whether you actually have mold in your home and what to disclose to future buyers. To answer the mold question, you should hire a professional mold inspector for an evaluation. If mold is found, you can have a qualified contractor do the remediation. And make sure that the one who does the removal is not the one who did the inspection.

If it turns out that you do not have mold, you can use the mold report for disclosure to future buyers. You can also use the report as evidence if you file an ethics complaint against the home inspector.

 

Seller Suspects Home Inspector Collusion

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:The people who are buying our home just had a home inspection. After the inspection, I heard the inspector tell the buyer’s agent that he would change the report to what the buyer wanted.  Since the report will be used to negotiate the terms of the sale, we are very concerned about what appears to be some sort of collusion. The inspector seems to be “playing ball” with the agent and the buyer, rather than simply reporting what he sees. Isn’t he supposed to be impartial in his findings?  Dori  

Dear Dori: The conversation you overheard between the inspector and the buyer’s agent has a suspicious ring, but it may or may not be as bad as it seems, depending on the details. For example, if the buyer wanted the inspector to inflate the severity of defects in his report, or if the inspector was being persuaded to report nonexistent defects, that would definitely involve unethical and fraudulent practices, calling for some form of legal recourse. On the other hand, buyers sometimes notice defects that are missed by their inspector, such as water stains in a closet or a cracked window. In such cases, it would be reasonable for a buyer to want those defects added to the inspector’s report.

Another example might be a safety violation where the inspector noted the defect but did not specify that safety was involved. In those cases, a buyer might request that the inspector use the word “safety” in the inspection report. Then it would be reasonable to “change the report to what the buyer wanted.”

Home inspectors should definitely be impartial in their findings. They should disclose what is true and observable. In your case, it would be reasonable to express your concerns to the agents and brokers in the transaction, as well as to the inspector, and to insist on an explanation of the conversation that you overheard.

Who Is Liable For Nondisclosure?

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: When we bought our house, our home inspector said that everything was in good condition. Since then, our basement has leaked, some of our circuit breakers became so hot they had to be replaced, and a chimney sweep told us that the fireplace is not usable. All of these issues should have been disclosed to us, and now we are saddled with one expense after the other. Who do we blame for these problems, the home inspector, the Realtor who recommended the inspector, or the previous owner?  Rena

Dear Rena: All three share some blame for the unfortunate lack of disclosure. The home inspector apparently did not do a thorough job. When a basement is prone to leaking, there are usually some signs of past leakage. If breakers are prone to overheating, there are usually some observable symptoms or evidence of faulty installation. When a fireplace is not usable, it is either because of substandard construction or material deterioration. Such conditions are typically identified qualified home inspectors.

If the Realtor recommended your home inspector, there could be some liability on the basis of “negligent referral.” Agents usually know which home inspectors are more or less qualified and thorough. Unfortunately, some agents are not inclined to recommend the best home inspectors. In some real estate offices, the best inspectors are labeled as “deal killers” or “deal breakers” and summarily dismissed from referral lists.

The sellers may or may not have known about the problems with the electrical panel and fireplace. Evidence of such conditions is not always apparent to homeowners. However, they probably knew about the leaking basement and should have disclosed that condition.

To hold a home inspector liable, you should give notice of the problems before they are repaired. Once the defects are altered from the way they were at the time of the inspection, it is difficult to raise issues of liability. Some home inspection contracts specifically require that you notify the inspector before making repairs.

At this point, you should give notice to the inspector, the agent, and the seller that these problems have been discovered. If no one is willing to address the matter, you can seek legal advice regarding disclosure liability.