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.
The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector
Dear Barry: You often stress the importance of defect disclosure for sellers. But here in the commonwealth of Virginia, sellers do not have to disclose. They can simply disclaim or disclose defects in their homes, as they choose. Most sellers sign disclaimers stating that they are selling their house “as is” without having to divulge anything they know to be defective. It’s “buyer beware” in this state, and only the foolish buyers forego home inspections! Diana
Dear Diana: Thanks for calling attention to this legal circumstance in your state. Something should be done in Virginia to rectify an inexcusably out-of-date position with regard to real estate disclosure. Setting aside the opposing legal arguments, it is a matter of common decency and honest ethical behavior to inform a buyer of defects before selling a costly commodity. This is particularly true with a home because of the financial hardship that can result from undisclosed defects. Those who support limited disclosure could use some basic instruction in the differences between right and wrong. Until then, the absence of seller disclosure increases the need for qualified home inspectors in Virginia.
The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector
Dear Barry: I have several complaints about my home inspector. Throughout the inspection, he was shadowed by the seller and the listing agent, so I could never speak freely with him, even though he was supposed to be working for me. During the inspection, I expressed concern about the air conditioner, but the seller said it had recently been fixed. So the inspector said nothing about it in his report, and now I’m stuck with an A/C system that doesn’t work. Finally, he reviewed the report with the seller and the listing agent, rather than privately with me. And my own agent didn’t even attend the inspection. Is this the way a home inspection is supposed to be? Chuck
Dear Chuck: If handled properly, this is not the way a home inspection should be. Your home inspector is your private consultant. Sellers and their agents are usually entitled to a copy of the inspection report, but they should not dominate the inspection process itself. Most home inspectors have had situations of this kind, with sellers, listing agents, and others following them from beginning to end. It is not an inspector’s favorite way to work, but inspectors try to make the best of it when it can’t be avoided. However, a good inspector always finds a moment to take the buyer aside and explain that a private review of the report can be done when the inspection is over. Your inspector apparently erred in this respect.
As for the air conditioner: Whatever assurances the seller gave your inspector should have had no bearing on the inspection. The inspector should have conducted a standard review of the A/C system and should have operated it to make sure that it was functional. If the seller disclosed having repaired the system, the inspector should have advised you to obtain a copy of the receipt for that work from the seller.
Your agent’s report card also shows low marks. If you had been properly represented, your agent would have been present at the inspection. Your agent’s job was to make sure the seller and the listing agent left you and your inspector alone during the inspection.
You should notify the seller, the agents, and the home inspector of the faulty A/C system and insist that it be repaired. The seller should also provide a copy of the receipt for whatever work was supposedly done.
Dear Barry: We purchased a brand new home about nine years ago. Two years later we noticed hollow sounds when we walked on the tile floors. After another two years, some tiles began buckling up, and more became loose. The builder re-cemented the lifted tiles but loosening continued, and some even cracked. What could be causing this problem, and what is the solution? Janice
Dear Janice: When tiles loosen and pop up, as you describe, a common cause is lack of expansion gaps at the walls. Ceramic tile flooring should be installed with a 1/4 inch gap at each wall to allow for expansion due to changes in moisture and temperature.
Without these gaps, expanding tiles press against the sill plates at the base of each wall. Pressure increases until tiles begin popping up and cracking. To determine if this is the problem in your home, remove some baseboards to see if gaps were provided by the tile installer. If not, the builder needs to do some serious repair or replacement.