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

Home Inspector Dismisses Water Damage & Mold

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: : We recently purchased a home and hired a home inspector to find all the defects. During the inspection, I noticed that the wallpaper in the master bedroom was discolored and was peeling at the edges. When I asked the inspector about this, he dismissed it as insignificant, but I continued to feel uncomfortable about it. Last week, I peeked behind a peeled edge of the wallpaper and found green mold. If I’d known about this, I’d have asked the sellers to have it removed. Shouldn’t this have been disclosed by our home inspector?  Jeri

Dear Jeri: When you asked the home inspector about the loose and discolored wallpaper, he should not have dismissed the issue. His answer should have been something on the order of, “I don’t know for sure if there is a problem, but the condition of the wallpaper indicates that there could be a moisture related issue below the surface. Therefore I recommend that the wallpaper be removed prior to close of escrow to determine whether there is a problem in that area.” That kind of disclosure would have led to discovery of the mold and would have saved you the cost of mold remediation and wall repairs.

You should contact the home inspector about your new findings and ask that he take a second look at the wall. A common response from many home inspectors in this kind of situation is to claim that the mold was concealed from view and that mold is not within the scope of a home inspection. Both defenses are true and valid. However, competent home inspectors never dismiss evidence of possible moisture damage. That was your home inspector’s primary error.

Home Inspector Cites Doubtful Deck Problem

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:I am selling my home, and everything was going smoothly until the buyer’s home inspector raised a needless issue about the deck. The inspection report says the deck and the roof above it must be attached to the house. I’ve gotten estimates from five different licensed deck contractors, and each of them said that the deck is well constructed and that attachment to the house is not required. My transaction with the buyer is now deadlocked over this issue. Do I have any recourse against the home inspector? Shouldn’t he have known that the deck is properly built?  Cathy

Dear Cathy: There are many home inspectors with questionable qualifications, some who are marginally experienced, some who overlook significant defects, and some who cite defects that are nonexistent. It may be that one of those people has inspected your home. If your transaction is deadlocked over this issue, you should insist that the home inspector cite the specific building requirement — chapter and verse — that was violated when your deck was built. If he cannot, then he should amend his report to show that the deck is properly constructed.

Two Complaints Against Property Managers

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I recently moved from a house that I had been renting. A few months before moving, I noticed a crack in the window above the stall shower. I don’t know how or when the crack happened, but I notified the property manager and requested that he replace the glass. Nothing was done about this window until after I vacated the property, and now the cost of glass replacement has been charged to my security deposit. I’m wondering if temperature changes could have caused the crack, if the window should have been tempered safety glass, and if the glass should have been replaced before I moved. What do you think?  Kessa

Dear Kessa: :  There is no way to know with certainty what caused the glass to crack. The cause might have been temperature changes, but no one will ever know for sure. Therefore, you have an unsolvable point of contention with the property manager. You do not believe you broke the window, but the property manager apparently disagrees and holds you responsible for the damage.

On the other hand, there is an overriding issue. The property manager was remiss in neglecting the glass repair when it was first reported, while the shower was still being used by you and your family. Failure to replace broken glass near a shower exposes occupants to potential injury. Therefore, the property manager was professionally negligent. If you can prove that you notified him of the crack while you still occupied the home, you may have a strong case against the management company and the property owner. Hopefully, your notice regarding the cracked window was written, not verbal. If so, you could probably prevail in small claims court.

As for glass requirements at the shower: Tempered safety glass is required unless the window sill is higher than five feet above the shower floor.

Dear Barry: We moved out of our mobile home and are having trouble selling it. The park management has a requirement that they must approve all prospective buyers. So far, we’ve sent three buyers to their office. In each case, the manager sold a park-owned mobile home to our buyers. The park got the sale, while we continue to pay monthly rent for our park space. This seems very underhanded. Is there anything we can do about it?  Thomas

Dear Thomas: :  There are two things you can do to prevent the park from stealing your buyers. First, you should accompany your prospective buyers to the park office, rather than sending them to the office on their own. Just tell the buyers, “Let’s go over to the park office and I’ll help you to get approved.” The park owner or manager will be less likely to pull a fast one with you sitting right there.

The other thing you should do is to make sure your mobile home is competitively marketed. This means the mobile home and yard area should be well maintained, and the unit should not be overpriced. If the condition and price of your unit compete well with those that are owned by the park, your buyers will be less likely to buy one from the park management.

Agents Complain to Editor

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: As editor of a paper that publishes your column, I’ve received complaints from real estate advertisers who find the tone of your articles to be anti-Realtor. After reviewing some recent columns, I tend to agree with them. When recurrent articles deal with unscrupulous real estate agents, a negative theme and negative perceptions can form. The tone of such articles creates an “us vs. them” mentality that isn’t good for anyone involved. I realize there are bad agents out there, just as there are bad inspectors, and you have written about both. But I think you should touch on other topics for variety. Readers would be better served if, for example, you would address the item-by-item details of a home inspection.  Mark

Dear Mark: Let me begin by praising the numerous first class real estate agents with whom I am personally acquainted. There are many outstanding Realtors who bring credit and good repute to the real estate profession — hard working agents who truly represent the best interests of their clients; who conduct their work with the highest ethical standards; who truly deserve every dollar of the commissions they earn.

The intent of this column has never been “us-versus-them”; nor has it been to paint real estate professionals with a broad brush, either positive or negative. As you say, there are good and bad agents out there, just as there are good and bad home inspectors; just as there are good and bad members of every profession.

The content of this column is largely dictated by questions and comments from readers, and many of these involve grievances against Realtors and home inspectors. If human nature tended toward praise rather than complaint, I would probably hear from more people who were satisfied with the top-notch agents and inspectors who have served them. Instead, I receive consumer complaints involving very real problems. The purpose of this column is to address those issues from an honest and unbiased perspective; to educate buyers, sellers, agents, and others about the pitfalls of real estate disclosure and best ways to deal with property defects.

In the years from 1996 through 2005, the real estate market thrived throughout most of the United States, and this booming activity caused many people to enter the real estate and home inspection professions. As a result, there were many inexperienced home inspectors, with little ability to provide homebuyers with adequate disclosure. Unfortunately, these novice inspectors obtained referrals from misguided real estate agents, and unsuspecting homebuyers made bad purchase decisions on the basis of faulty inspection reports.

Some of the agents who referred those inspectors were novices themselves, unaware of the vast quality differences among home inspectors. At the same time, there were experienced agents who should have known better, but who failed to exercise ethical discretion when referring home inspectors to their clients.

So what is the solution?

Leaders in the real estate profession, including brokers and Realtor associations, need to provide agents with better clarity regarding disclosure. This emphasis should be two-fold. First is the matter of ethics: Buyers should be fully informed of property defects because total disclosure is the only honest way to do business. It is the way that everyone wants to be treated. Second is the matter of legal liability: Faulty disclosure exposes agents and sellers to potential lawsuits. If the altruism of ethical disclosure is not sufficient cause, then the need to avoid litigation should be. For either reason or for both reasons, disclosure of property defects is good for everyone.

Agents should become familiar with the best home inspectors in their areas of business and should only recommend those inspectors. Many good agents have made this a practice throughout their careers. When other agents follow that good example, consumer complaints will cease to fill my inbox, and articles that offend agents will no longer be necessary.

Sellers Misrepresent Illegal Gas Line

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We purchased a condo last year and had it professionally inspected. The inspector could not see the gas line for the patio barbecue because it was under the concrete slab. But the seller assured us that it was installed to code. He volunteered this information while taking us on a tour of the home. Recently, we removed the patio to replace it with brick pavers. It turned out the gas line was on top of the soil, directly under the concrete. The paving company won’t install the new patio until we have the gas pipe buried at the required depth of 18 inches. Are the sellers responsible for this plumbing work, or must we swallow the cost? Denise

Dear Denise: Sellers often make statements about code compliance in utter ignorance of the building code. In fact, home inspectors laugh among themselves about sellers who say, “We built the addition without a permit, but everything was done to code.” Unless sellers are architects or building contractors, they have no way of knowing whether code compliance has been met. If you combine the building code, the plumbing code, the mechanical code, and the electrical code, you have a set of books about five inches thick and written in esoteric language that is essentially foreign techno-speak to the average person.

The “craftsman” who installed the gas line below your patio, without burying it 18 inches below grade, was obviously not a professional. This means that the seller installed a gas line (or had some other unqualified person install it) and did so without a required building permit. Since the seller represented the gas line as being “installed to code,” it would be reasonable to request that he make that line comply with his own disclosure. If he does not agree, a small claims judge would be likely to rule in your favor.

Be sure to take photos of the gas line before having it replaced.