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

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.

Sellers Refuse to Repair New Damage

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We are in escrow to buy a home. When we made our offer, there was an attractive concrete walkway in the front yard. Since then, the sellers hired a contractor to inspect the septic tank. The contractor had to cut out two sections of the walkway, but when he replaced the pieces, he set them in a way that is uneven, unsightly, and could cause someone to trip. Now the sellers and their agent say it is up to us to replace the damaged pavement because temporary removal was required to meet the terms of the sale. Do we really have to fix this ourselves, or is it the responsibility of the sellers?  Misty

Dear Misty: The sellers and their agent are entirely out of bounds. You made an offer to purchase a property in the condition that existed when it was marketed. Since the offer was accepted, that condition was adversely altered by contractors who were hired by the sellers.

The excuse offered by the sellers and their agent is entirely unacceptable. Suppose the sellers’ chimney sweep had damaged the roof? Would that also be your problem? What if the sellers’ painter had cracked a window? Would you be required to replace the glass? In this case, the sellers had to hire a septic contractor. The performance of that obligation did not license them to denigrate the property at your expense. Either the sellers or their septic contractor should restore the property to the conditions that existed when you made your offer. Your agent, not theirs, should step up to the plate and demand that this be done. Hopefully, you have your own agent in this transaction.

Dear Barry: When we bought our house, the home inspector said he could not open the damper in the fireplace and suggested we have it checked further. We probably should have taken his advice but did not. Recently, we used the fireplace for the first time, and our teenage son had no problem opening the damper. The fireplace worked okay, but on a rainy day the brick firebox became wet. Now we’re wondering why the home inspector was unable to open the damper and whether leak repairs are covered by the home warranty policy.  Mike

Dear Mike: Your son would most likely prevail against the home inspector in an arm wrestling match. Be that as it may, leaking at the chimney top apparently caused rusting of the damper hardware, causing the damper to stick. The resistance was too much for the home inspector but not for your son. To prevent further water intrusion and rust, a chimney cap should be installed. It is unfortunate that caps are not required on all masonry chimneys.

You should also follow the home inspector’s original recommendation and have the fireplace system fully evaluated by a qualified professional, such as a certified chimney sweep. And make sure the chimney cap is the type with a four-sided spark arrestor.

As for home warranty coverage, that will depend upon the fine print in the policy. Warranty companies typically exclude pre-existing conditions.

Buyers Dismayed By Unsigned Building Permit

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We bought our home about four months ago, and now have a big, undisclosed problem. The house is very old and was completely renovated; not by the person who sold us the property, but two owners previous to them. Our Realtor advised us to check for permits at the city hall, which we did. The city showed us copies of permits for the electrical, plumbing, and mechanical work. But we did not notice the absence of signatures on the permit records. We didn’t know that people could apply for permits and never call for inspections. Our second mistake was buying the property without hiring a home inspector. We’d like to blame someone for this mess, but I suppose the lesson here is “buyer beware”. What should we do to get all of this straightened out?  Alison

Dear Alison: Some home inspectors routinely advise buyers to verify the sign-off on building permits. This is because many people have taken out permits for additions, renovations, remodels, and even new construction, without ever calling for an inspection. Municipal building departments don’t check up on every property that has an outstanding permit because many permits are issued without work ever being done. This makes covert work, without inspections or signoffs, an easy sleight of hand. Unfortunately, the victims are the unsuspecting buyers who are easily fooled by the display of an unsigned permit.

At this point, you need to know what is right or wrong with the work that was done. A qualified home inspector can help you find those answers. This, of course, should have been done before you purchased the property. Unfortunately, too many buyers find reasons not to hire a home inspector.

After you review the findings of the home inspection, arrange for the building department to inspect and approve the renovations. But be prepared for anything. This process could be quick and easy, or it could be complicated and expensive, depending on the style and approach of the municipal inspector. For example, the inspector could order you to remove drywall to expose the piping and wiring within the walls. Hopefully, the corrective work, if any, will not be too costly or involved.

After the corrections are completed and signed off, you’ll know that the renovations are safe and in compliance with code. When you eventually sell the property, you can do so without fear of undisclosed defects.

Sellers Withhold Disclosure of Defects

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: The home that I’m buying has been vacant for two years, and the sellers have not been truthful about its condition. Their disclosure statement says the furnace is in perfect working order, and they listed no other defects. Last week, I called the gas company to turn on the service and to light the furnace. They red-tagged the furnace as “inoperable” and said they had previously informed the owners of this problem. They also told the owners that the copper gas piping needs to be replaced. The sellers have now agreed to replace the gas lines, but they want me to replace the furnace at my own expense. What should I do?  Diana

Dear Diana: Aside from the debate about who should pay for a new furnace, there is a larger question that involves trust and credibility. The sellers have demonstrated the intent to misrepresent the condition of the home, to conceal the fact that the furnace is defective and in need of replacement. This opens the door to additional uncertainties. What other disclosures might they also have withheld? Possibly none, but now you have to wonder.

Another consideration is this: A home is not a legal dwelling unless it has a functional heating system that complies with minimum standards, according to code. From that perspective, the sellers should pay a qualified contractor to replace the furnace, to make the home a livable dwelling before they sell it.

If the home is a particularly good deal, you might be willing to accept it in as-is condition, without replacement of the furnace as a precondition. That is an investment decision you will have to make. But before you proceed with the transaction, be sure to hire the most qualified and experienced home inspector you can find. The sellers are clearly not providing disclosure. Therefore, you need an advocate who definitely will.

Seller and Agent Fail to Disclose Defects

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: When we bought our home, the agent was selling it for his mother, and they told us that it was a maintenance-free home, in perfect condition. That was five years ago, and now the undisclosed problems have surfaced. First, we began to have septic problems, but no one could find the access to the septic tank. According to our neighbors, the garage was built over the tank. Another problem was lack of access to the crawlspace beneath the house. The seller had installed a forced air heating system, and the new air ducts blocked the access opening on the side of the building. Our home inspector pointed this out before we bought the property, but nothing was done about it at the time. Well last week, we made a new access hole and got a very unpleasant surprise. The crawlspace is filled with black, smelly, stagnant water from the laundry drain, and mold is growing on the underside of the floor. The seller simply ran a drain hose under the building and never told anyone. After this many years, do we have any recourse?  Leslie

Dear Leslie: If the agent was representing you, as well as his mother, that was not a good arrangement. You should have had your own agent to represent your interests. A good agent, working on your behalf, would have negotiated to have the seller provide a septic inspection report. The septic inspector would have found the septic access or would have discovered that the system was not accessible. In that case, an access would have been created to enable inspection and servicing of the system. If other septic repairs had been needed, that could have been negotiated before you bought the property.

If access to the crawlspace was obstructed, your home inspector should have recommended that access be provided before the close of escrow. If that had been done, the faulty laundry drain, the excessive moisture condition, and possibly the mold would have been discovered.

If these problems had come to light sooner, you might have held the seller, the agent, and the home inspector liable for faulty disclosure. After five years, you may no longer have recourse. However, you should check with a real estate attorney for clarification on that point.