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

Asbestos Pipe Insulation Not Disclosed

The House Detective: by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:   My home was built in 1926 and has asbestos insulation on all the hot water pipes under the building. Fortunately, all of this asbestos has been wrapped. When I first learned about it, I was horrified and wondered why my home inspector hadn’t mention it when I bought the property. My main concern is what will happen when I eventually want to sell the home. Can I resell it in this condition, without penalty?  Am I required to have the asbestos removed? And also, do I have recourse from my home inspector for not mentioning the asbestos?  Judy

Dear Judy:  Asbestos pipe insulation was common in the 1920s and is not regarded as a significant health risk when it is undamaged and intact. Fortunately, the asbestos insulation in your home been encapsulated, rendering it in much safer condition than when it was exposed to the air.

As a seller, there is no requirement for removal of asbestos, and there are no penalties for merely having it. Your only requirement will be to provide full disclosure to prospective buyers, to let them know that the asbestos material is present. If the former owners were the ones who had the pipes wrapped, they probably knew about the asbestos and should have provided some disclosure.

Environmental hazards such as asbestos are not within the scope of a home inspection. However, competent inspectors who take their work seriously will often point out situations where the presence of asbestos is likely, such as insulated pipes in an old home. This is something that your home inspector would have been wise to do, even though not required to do so.

House Need To Be Rewired?

The House Detective: by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:   We just bought a home but can’t move in because of major electrical problems. Before we bought it, our home inspector found a few electrical defects, but he said these were minor, so we waited till the escrow closed before making repairs. Our electrician now says that the previous owner tampered with the wiring, and the entire house needs to be rewired. But we don’t have enough money to pay for that kind of repair. Shouldn’t our home inspector have reported this situation, and isn’t he liable for the cost of rewiring?  Carol

Dear Carol:   If your home inspector failed to identify visible defects in the electrical wiring, then he is probably liable for the repair costs, depending on liability limits in the inspection contract and liability laws in your state. However, before rushing to judgment regarding liability, there are other questions that should be answered.

Presently, you have two conflicting opinions about the electrical system. The home inspector says there are some minor defects (whatever that means), and the electrician says the house needs to be rewired. The question is, “Who is correct?” Two possibilities come to mind: either you have a home inspector who overlooked significant defects or an electrician trying to land a big job. This uncertainty should be resolved before taking action.

One thing to keep in mind is that it’s extremely unusual for a house to require total rewiring. Most electrical defects are specific and can usually be repaired without replacing all of the wires. If the previous owner of your home “tampered with the wiring,” it is hard to imagine that he affected all of the circuits.

To gain some clarity on the situation, you should get a third opinion from another electrician. If the second electrician agrees that the house needs to be rewired, the home inspector should be notified and should come to the property to explain why he failed to correctly evaluate the electrical system. At that point, he should be asked to file a claim on his errors and omissions insurance, assuming that he has insurance.

Additionally, the seller of the home should not be dismissed from potential liability. The electrical code requires that there be a permit for altering the wiring in a home. If the seller “tampered” with the wiring in ways that affect safety, the work was most likely not permitted. If that is the case, the seller should have disclosed this prior to sale of the property. If no disclosure was made, the seller should pay for the electrical repairs.

Buyers Afraid To Cancel Bad Deal

The House Detective: by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:   While on leave from the military, we bought a home that was totally misrepresented. According to the listing, it was a 2300 square foot, four-bedroom, lake view house. During the escrow, we read the tax documents and discovered that the home is actually 2000 square feet with only three bedrooms. We also learned that the fourth bedroom is an unpermitted addition and the “lake” is a retention pond. When we tried to cancel the sale, the seller threatened to keep our deposit and take us to court. We consulted an attorney, but he said he couldn’t do anything in this case.  So we closed escrow and now owe more than the current appraisal value of the property. What can we do?  Doug

Dear Doug:    It is very disappointing to know that you closed on the property. Once you learned that the listing details were false, you had every right to cancel the sale. The sellers could not have gotten your deposit without taking legal action, and they had no basis for their claim because they were guilty of fraudulent misrepresentation and violation of seller disclosure laws. The same culpability applies to the listing agent, who should definitely have known better. Furthermore, anyone who would abuse members of our military in this way can add “scum-hood” to their other reprehensible attributes.

The fact that your attorney did not advise you not to buy the property is actually astonishing. It’s hard to image someone with a law degree being so bereft of common sense. At this point, you need some better advice from a more reliable real estate attorney. 

Aftermath of an As-Is Sale

The House Detective: by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:  We just purchased a home “as is.” The previous owner signed a mold disclosure statement that says there is no known mold. After moving in, we found that one entire bathroom wall is rotted with mold, and the roof has mold as well. Isn’t the seller liable for withholding this information?  Klemmy

Dear Klemmy:  Your question raises more than one issue. To begin, sellers are required to disclose all known defects, even when the sale is “as-is.” If the bathroom walls were covered with apparent mold, that should have been disclosed. However, mold does not cause walls to rot. The primary concern with mold is the release of airborne spores that can be harmful to breathe. If the walls seem rotted, there is probably some moisture damage that should also have been disclosed.

Before closing escrow on a property, it is customary for the buyers to do a final walk-through inspection. If you had done this, the defective bathroom wall would probably have been seen. Therefore, you may not have been exercising sufficient due diligence as buyers.

As for mold on the roof, that would be highly unusual and should be confirmed by a qualified mold professional. What you see on the roof may actually be lichen, a combination of algae and fungus that commonly grows on the north sides of trees and the north slopes of roofs. Lichen is not mold and is not known to be harmful to people or to roofs.

The final issue is whether you hired a home inspector as part of your due diligence. Failure to have a professional home inspection is a common mistake among buyers making an as-is purchase. Buying a house as-is means that the seller will not make repairs. It does not mean that you buy the property with blindfolds on: without finding out what you are buying in as-is condition.

If you bought the house without a home inspection, now is the time to find a highly qualified inspector to see what other defects were not disclosed. After you get the inspection report, you can consider whether to hold the seller liable for non-disclosure.

Home Inspector Afraid To Get Camera Dirty

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:I’m selling my home, and the buyers’ inspection report was hideous!  According to the home inspector, the toilets are loose, but I’ve pushed against them and they don’t budge. The worst part of the inspection report was the list of supposed defects under the building. According to the home inspector, some of the framing is rotted, and dead rats need to be removed. I asked him for photos of these conditions, but he said he didn’t want to get his camera dirty in the crawlspace.  Making matters worse, the buyers’ agent said it was illegal for me to be present during the inspection. And one more thing: the inspector said that debris in the spider webs might be dead carpenter ants. Who knows, maybe I have a cobra living down there, too!  Randy 

Dear Randy:  If the home inspector’s findings are questionable, you should state this in writing to the buyers, and the inspector should have to verify his findings with photos. If he doesn’t want to get his camera dirty, he should place it inside a plastic bag, or perhaps he could borrow your camera. In any event, he should have to show exactly what he saw regarding the foundation, dead rats, carpenter ants, etc. It would also be wise to hire your own home inspector to provide a second opinion of the property’s condition. If the buyers back out of the deal, a second inspection will help to provide disclosure to future buyers.

As for the agent: 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, and you have the right to be there any time you want, regardless of home inspections, cobras, or any other circumstances.