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

Undisclosed Septic Problem

The House Detective: by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:  Two days after we moved into our home, the septic system backed up into the tub and toilet. This was a big surprise because the septic had been inspected and approved by a septic contractor before the close of escrow. We called a different septic contractor, and he said the leach field needs to be replaced for thousands of dollars. We called two other contractors for additional quotes. One of them told us that he had inspected the system a few months ago and had told the previous owners about the failed leach field, but the sellers never disclosed this to us. Another contractor told us that the Realtor was liable for recommending a septic contractor who is not licensed. The sellers have moved out of state, so we can’t hold them liable. What can we do to recoup this unexpected expense?  Jason

Dear Jason:  Sellers who conceal known defects from buyers are worthy of public disgrace. Unfortunately, your sellers seem to be out of harm’s way, having moved out of state, which leaves their agent and the agent’s septic contractor as the potentially liable parties. The agent is at fault for recommending an unqualified contractor. The contractor is culpable for issuing false findings, especially if this was done without a license.

To verify whether the septic contractor was, in fact, operating without a license, you should contact the state agency that issues licenses to contractors. Even if the contractor is licensed, there is the issue of the false septic report.

The agent, broker, and septic inspector should be notified by certified mail of the current situation. If no one is willing to pay for a new leach field, you probably have a strong case for small claims court. In any event, you should get some advice from a real estate attorney regarding your available remedies under law.

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.

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.

Should Buyers Attend Their Home Inspection?

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:  Our home inspection is scheduled for next week. This is the first time we’ve bought a home, and we’re not sure what to do and what not to do. Our agent says it’s not important for us to attend the inspection, that we should just wait for the report. But we’re uncomfortable with that advice. There are so many things we want to ask the inspector. What do you recommend?  Annamarie

Dear Annamarie: Your agent is not giving you good advice. The importance of attending your home inspection cannot be emphasized too strongly.

Too many homebuyers miss a great opportunity by being present at their home inspection.  Sometimes this is unavoidable, due to geographical distance.  But whenever possible, buyers are strongly urged to participate in the inspection process.  Being on site during the inspection, viewing specific conditions in person, consulting with the inspector, asking questions, and obtaining advice greatly magnify the benefits to you, the buyer.

A home inspection is a fact-finding mission in which the inspector is your hired advocate. You and the inspector should jointly engage in the discovery process.  Both of you are there for the same reason – to learn as much as possible about the condition of the property.

Prior to the inspection, most buyers make a purchase offer based upon a 15-minute walk-through or run-through.  At that point, they know very little about a very expensive commodity.  The home inspection provides buyers their only opportunity to slowly and methodically view and consider the object of their investment.  During the inspection, they have hours to voice questions and concerns as they evaluate their prospective purchase.  Buyers have even been known to discover defects the inspector might otherwise have missed.

Buyer attendance also enables the inspector to explain the meaning and importance of each condition noted in the inspection report.  When buyers are not present at the inspection, conditions noted in the report must be read and interpreted without explanation.  Lacking a verbal review of the findings, a buyer may over-react to minor disclosures, while failing to appreciate the importance of more serious ones.  The on-site review provided by your inspector may be the most informative aspect of the entire home inspection process.  When circumstances prevent buyers from attending the inspection, a telephone conference with the inspector is strongly advised.