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

Home Inspector Accused of Collusion

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: Before we bought our home, we hired a home inspector, but he didn’t report any of the major problems in the house. Now we have to repair the plumbing, the electrical wiring, and the roof. When he did the inspection, he said everything was OK, but he was just lying, and we think he may have gotten a big tip from the seller or the agent. He was supposed to be working for us. Why would a home inspector do business this way?  Beatriz

Dear Beatriz: To assume that a home inspector took a bribe is a big jump. When home inspectors fail to report defects, the problem is usually negligence or professional incompetence, not willful collusion with sellers or agents. Unfortunately, there are more than a few home inspectors who are just plain inexperienced or not adequately skilled as inspectors. Because of this, many homebuyers do not receive adequate disclosure. To make matters worse, there are many agents who recommend such inspectors to their clients.

The first thing you should do is have your home reinspected, but this time you should find an inspector with many years of experience and a reputation for thoroughness. To gather some leads, call a few real estate offices and ask for the most “nit-picky” home inspector in town. Tell them you want a home inspector who is known as a “deal breaker.” That’s the misnomer that some agents apply to the best inspectors.

A second report from a truly qualified home inspector will reveal the actual condition of your home and will provide a more complete list of the issues that were missed by the first inspector. Then you can notify the first inspector of your concerns and ask if he has errors and omissions insurance. Hopefully, he will be willing to address your concerns.

Home Inspector Misjudges Water Heater

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:We just closed escrow on a home, and the day we moved in we found a flooded basement because the water heater had failed. But four weeks ago, our home inspector said the water heater would be good for many more years. Our plumber disagreed. He said the fixture was 10 years old, was rusted at the bottom, and was well past its normal lifespan. We paid our inspector $450 to let us know what was wrong with the house and then had to spend twice as much for repairs on moving day. Is our home inspector liable for this mistake?  Faith

Dear Faith: Experienced home inspectors know better than to predict the remaining life of an old water heater. Those who break that rule expose themselves to needless liability.

Home inspectors routinely determine the age of a water heater by reading the serial number on the label. If your inspector had done this, he might not have predicted years of continued use for the fixture. In fact, most home inspectors typically report that an older unit may soon fail.

Aside from the age of the fixture, your home inspector should have noticed the rust at the bottom of the tank, a clear indication of age and of past leakage. It appears, therefore, that he did not conduct a thorough inspection of the fixture.

Before you replaced the water heater, you should have notified your home inspector of the problem and given him the opportunity to review the damage. Some home inspection contracts require that the inspector see the defects in question, otherwise the inspector is absolved of liability. On the other hand, a written statement from the plumber who replaced the water heater will provide evidence in your favor. But first you must contact the inspector and let him know that this problem has occurred.

Weather Conditions Can Affect Home Inspection

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: Home inspectors are often accused of negligence when excessive weather conditions prevent them from inspecting some areas of a home. For example, a home inspector might not inspect an attic when the outside temperature is over 100 degrees. If problems in the attic are discovered at a later date, is it unfair to hold the inspector liable?  Gloria

Dear Gloria: Weather conditions often prevent home inspectors from completing portions of an inspection, and liability can be a problem in some of these instances if undisclosed defects are discovered at a later date. Rain, for example, can prevent a home inspector from walking on a roof. Snow can prevent an inspector from even seeing a roof. And hot weather, as you suggest, can prevent inspection of an attic. However, in each of these instances, the need for disclosure does not end with a disclaimer in the inspection report.

In the case of an overheated attic, the inspection report should recommend further evaluation of the attic prior to close of escrow. If the attic is too hot in the afternoon, it will probably be much cooler the following morning. A home inspector who is concerned about the interests of customers will make that kind of recommendation. This applies to other situations, as well. Wet weather, cold weather, storage of personal property, inaccessibility, or other issues can prevent the completion of an inspection. Home inspectors should always recommend further evaluation when conditions that prevent a full inspection have been eliminated. This approach serves the disclosure needs of homebuyers and reduces the liability of home inspectors.