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

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.

Agent Gives Bad Inspection Advice to Buyers

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:We are currently buying a home and are troubled about our recent home inspection. Our agent recommended this inspector as the one she always uses, and she advised us not to attend the inspection, saying that most buyers do not attend home inspections. We have since learned that most agents give buyers a list of three home inspectors, advising them to choose one. We would actually like to hire another home inspector for a second opinion, but we don’t want to offend our agent. We can’t afford to buy a fixer-upper and are wondering what we should do. What do you recommend?  Jenn

Dear Jenn:  Choosing a home inspector can be a problem when you rely on someone else’s choice rather than your own. When referrals come from Realtors, the results can be good or bad, depending on the agent. Some Realtors recommend qualified home inspectors and some do not. Some give a list of three qualified home inspectors, and some give lists of mediocre inspectors. Therefore, whether you were given a list or a single referral is not a determining factor.

The red flag in your situation was your agent’s advice not to attend the inspection. No knowledgeable, experienced agent who is honest and ethical would give such misleading advice to a client. Your presence at the inspection was not only a good idea; it was essential. You are on the verge of making an extremely expensive investment. Your home inspector is there to educate you about the condition of the property so that you can make a wise purchase decision. What your agent did was to limit your exposure to the information you need from your inspector. Again, this is not something that an honest and ethical agent would do.

A second home inspection is definitely a good idea, and you should not worry about whether this is objectionable to your agent. It is her job to protect your financial interests. If she doesn’t perform that duty, you need to do it for yourself. If a second inspection reveals defects not found by the first inspector, your agent should reimburse you for the first inspection.

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.