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

Buyer Alleges Faulty Home Inspection

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We purchased our home 1 1/2 years ago, and our home inspector missed a number of problems. These include rotten eave boards, a bad roof, a rusted water heater, garage door openers not equipped with safety eyes, rotted window frames, an unvented kitchen stovetop, a broken vent on the furnace, and the list goes on. We trusted him because he was recommended by our Realtor. Do we have any recourse? Sandra

Dear Sandra: The first step in the process of recourse is to notify the home inspector and the agent that these problems were not disclosed. You should invite them to your home for a review of these issues. And be sure to do this before making any repairs because corrected problems are not as negotiable as existing ones. Be aware also that not all of the issues you listed are within the scope of a home inspection and some may not involve actual defects. Here are some examples:

  • Rotting wood at the eaves and windows may or may not be included in the scope of the inspection. You should check the inspection contract in that regard. Termite inspectors are the ones who typically inspect for rotted wood.
  • Older garage door openers were not required to have safety eyes.
  • In most states, venting is not required at a kitchen range.

On the other hand, the rusted water heater, the broken furnace vent, and the faulty roof should have been disclosed by the inspector if the problems were visible at the time of the inspection.

It is an unfortunate reality of the real estate business that some agents cannot be trusted to recommend the best home inspectors. This does not apply to all agents, but it does apply to some. Therefore, your agent should be asked, “Was this the most thorough and experienced home inspector you know?” In most cases, agents know which inspectors are the best. If you can get the name of a “top gun” home inspector in your area, a second inspection would be advisable. This may alert you to additional problems that may have been missed by the agent’s inspector.

Buyer Ignored During Home Inspection

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.

Can I learn to self inspect my home?

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I’ve considered taking a home inspection course to learn more about defects in houses, to assist me as a real estate investor. Would this be beneficial? Steven

Dear Steven: The additional knowledge will adefinitely help you to do preliminary evaluations when shopping for an investment property. But when you find a property you like and enter a purchase contract, don’t let your own inspection substitute for an in-depth evaluation by a qualified, experienced home inspector.

Buyer Disillusioned With Home Inspectors

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: The last time I bought a home, the inspector missed an unbelievable number of problems. He was strongly recommended by my agent, so I expected a much more thorough inspection. Now that I’m buying another home, I don’t want to make the same mistake. Rather than depending on an agent’s referral, how can I know whether a home inspector is truly qualified? Monica

Dear Monica: Complaints about unsatisfactory home inspections are common subjects in my daily email. Unfortunately, there are more than a few unqualified and inexperienced home inspectors in the marketplace, and the problem is compounded by the many real estate agents who routinely recommend these inspectors to their buyers. If you are unfamiliar with the home inspectors in your area, tell your agent you want the most thorough home inspector available. Say you want the one the agents call “the deal killer.” And make sure that the home inspector has been in business for many years, has inspected thousands of homes, and has a reputation for thoroughness. In truth, home inspectors of this caliber are rarely deal killers. Unfortunately, the degree of thoroughness they apply to their work may engender such fears among some agents.

Once you find a qualified inspector, be sure to attend the inspection. A good home inspector will point out defects and will fully explain the report at the end of the inspection.

Problems With Bureaucrats & Water Heaters

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: Your comment about the building inspector who was “consumed with the zeal of high office” was so “spot on” and could be used in many situations. Many of us have dealt with variations of this person. Thanks for the smile it gave me. Mary Ann

Dear Mary Ann: A common problem with bureaucratic systems is that they tend to promote employees to their various levels of inefficiency. Once they reach the level at which they no longer do good work, they cease to be promoted. Instead, they remain in those positions until the day of retirement because most governmental systems preclude the likelihood of demotion or of being fired. Additionally, government employment can be a place of refuge for those whose talents are insufficient for the competitive demands of the marketplace. Bureaucracies also attract managers whose faulty decision making processes render them unacceptable to private employers whose main concern is customer satisfaction and a lucrative bottom line.

It should be emphasized, however, that not all bureaucrats are of this low caliber. There are many highly qualified people who also find themselves in government employment. But the percentage of sour apples in the bureaucratic barrel seems higher than one is likely to find in private business.