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

Home Inspector Makes Suspicious Mold Disclosure

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:  Our home recently fell out of escrow, and the circumstances were very suspicious. The buyers hired a home inspector who reported that we have mold. We were unable to see any mold, but the inspector said it was only visible with a special flashlight. We agreed to remove the mold ourselves, but the buyers said they wanted it done by a professional. Lo and behold, the home inspector was also in that line of work – for a fee of $1500. While we were negotiating this, the buyers cancelled the sale. What do you think of this situation?  Valerie

Dear Valerie:  The fact that the home inspector was ready to remove mold that no one else could see is highly suspect. Furthermore, it is a conflict of interest for a home inspector to perform repair work on a home that he has inspected. To do so violates the codes of ethics of every home inspector association.

The main issue for now is to determine whether you actually have mold in your home and what to disclose to future buyers. To answer the mold question, you should hire a professional mold inspector for an evaluation. If mold is found, you can have a qualified contractor do the remediation. And make sure that the one who does the removal is not the one who did the inspection.

If it turns out that you do not have mold, you can use the mold report for disclosure to future buyers. You can also use the report as evidence if you file an ethics complaint against the home inspector.

 

Who Should Pay For Home Inspector’s Damage

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I am a Realtor and am having a problem with damage done during a home inspection. The property is one of my listings, so I represent the seller. The inspector was testing the Jacuzzi tub in the master bathroom and forgot to turn it off. The water level was too low because of a leak, and this caused the pump motor to burn out. The seller said the Jacuzzi was working before the inspection, but now it is inoperative, and the motor needs to be replaced. The buyer and inspector were the only ones home during the inspection. Who is responsible for the cost of repair?  Elizabeth

Dear Elizabeth: There are two answers to this question. The real estate purchase contract probably holds the buyer responsible for any damage that occurs during inspections authorized by the buyer. This, however, does not relieve the home inspector from liability on the basis of professional ethics. The buyer, therefore, is liable to the seller, but the home inspector is liable to the buyer.

In the course of a career, most home inspectors will have caused and paid for some kind of property damage. One inspector told me that he tipped over and broke a flower pot that turned out to be an expensive piece of ceramic. Another inspector said that he was filling the bathtub to test the whirlpool pump. At that moment, the buyer asked, “Could you please take a look at something in the garage?” By the time the inspector remembered the bathtub test, two rooms had been flooded. A third home inspector admitted that he forgot to turn off the oven before leaving the property. When the buyers returned from vacation five days later, the house was a virtual sauna, the decorative candles on the fireplace mantle had melted, and the gas bill for that month was as large as a car payment.

In each case, the inspector accepted professional responsibility and paid for the damages. The first inspector paid for the flower pot. The second hired a casualty repair company to dry the carpets and replace the damaged drywall. The third inspector paid for the gas bill and replacement of damaged personal property.

Everyone makes mistakes, and one quality of a true professional is to accept the consequences when mistakes happen, which brings us back to the burned out Jacuzzi motor at your listing.

When a home inspector tests a Jacuzzi, he should watch the system while it is operating to check for leaks and other functional or safety-related problems. When he is through with that part of the inspection, the pump should be turned off, and the tub should be drained. If the pump in this case was left on long enough to burn out, the home inspector probably walked away, not realizing that it had been left on. If that is the case, then he is liable for momentary negligence and should pay for the repair. That is what a professional inspector with a sense of integrity would do. To do otherwise would damage his reputation and cost him future referrals from the buyer’s agent and from other agents who learn of the incident.

Code Violations Not Found By Inspectors

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:We bought a brand new home about a year ago and hired a home inspector before closing. The inspector found no problems and said the house was perfect. Since then, we’ve learned that there are code violations in the plumbing and on the roof. How could the house be sold if it didn’t meet code? Is the building department responsible for approving the construction, or what? And if they missed the problems, why didn’t our home inspector find them? Is anyone responsible, or are we just out of luck?  Sharon

Dear Sharon:  That is a tall list of issues: the quality of new construction and the reliability of building and home inspections. So let’s start with the city inspection.

Without knowing which code violations are involved, little can be said here about what the municipal building inspector should have seen. In general, however, city and county building inspections are usually short in duration and not comprehensive in scope. For example, municipal inspectors typically do not walk on roofs or crawl through attics. Therefore, defects in those areas are likely to go unnoticed. The final inspection of a new home usually occurs before the electrical and gas services are turned on. Therefore, outlets are not tested for grounding and polarity, GFCI performance is not verified, and gas fixtures such as stoves, furnaces, and water heaters are not functionally evaluated.

As for liability, municipal inspectors have none, as specified in chapter one of the building code. In their defense, however, it should be noted that most local building departments are under-funded and under-staffed, so that most of their inspections are conducted with limited time for thoroughness. This brings us to the homebuyers’ next line of defense, the home inspector.

The home inspection industry claims that it does not perform code compliance inspections, but this is only true in a limited sense. The purpose of a home inspection is to disclose visible defects, in accordance with professional standards. Yet many of the defects that home inspectors disclose involve code violations. For example, a hollow core door in a garage firewall is a visible defect that home inspectors routinely report. Why is it a defect? Because it violates the building code. Therefore, visible defects that violate building codes are usually within the scope of a home inspection and should be reported. If not reported, the home inspector would be liable.

Furthermore, when a home inspector tells you a house has no defects, that should warn you that the inspection was not very thorough. A home with no defects is as fanciful and unlikely as a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Homes are made by humans. Humans are not perfect. Therefore, no homes are perfect. All homes, including brand new ones, have imperfections, to lesser or larger degrees.

In cases involving new homes, the buck stops at the doorstep of the builder. Regardless of what was found or overlooked by the inspectors, the builder must guaranty the quality of the construction. If code violations are found when the building is one year old, the builder is still responsible.

To obtain a comprehensive list of the inherent defects in your home, you need a more complete home inspection than the one you received a year ago. Therefore, find the most qualified and experienced home inspector in your area. Then you can present the list of findings to the person or company who constructed the home.

New Home Inspector Feels His Oats

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: In one of your articles, you said, “The essential purpose of home inspection is to disclose property defects.” If that is true, why don’t home inspectors use the top tools of the trade, such as thermal cameras, borescopes, and moisture meters? In my opinion, most home inspectors are retired general contractors with a lock on Realtor referrals. I am a new home inspector, but I provide a far more thorough inspection than my competitors who don’t use specialized testing equipment. The problem, however, it getting real estate agents to refer me to their clients They all seem to use the same few home inspectors who have been here forever. Can you offer any help on this?  Mark

Dear Mark: When I said that the essential purpose of a home inspection is “to disclose property defects,” I did not mean that the purpose is to disclose every possible property defect. If home inspectors intended to disclose every possible defect, thermal cameras, borescopes, and moisture meters would definitely be needed, as you suggest. But even then, the inspections would not be complete. To provide disclosure of all possible defects, inspectors would need to take air samples for mold, to place test canisters for radon gas, and to sample various materials for possible asbestos fiber and lead content. But that’s not all. Home inspections would not be complete without a structural analysis of the foundations, which would require that the inspectors be licensed structural engineers or that they subcontract with a structural engineer on every inspection. Inspectors would also need to take core samples of property sites to ensure geological stability and to evaluate subsurface water drainage characteristics based upon soil composition. This, of course, would require credentials as a licensed geotechnical engineer. Homes would also need to be tested for electromagnetic fields, for soil contamination, and for off-gassing of synthetic compounds such as urea formaldehyde.

This list could be expanded almost indefinitely if the essential purpose of a home inspection was to disclose all possible property defects.  In truth, home inspections are preliminary visual inspections, not techically exhaustive evaluations. A home inspection is analogous to the routine annual phyical that you receive from your doctor. Family physicians don’t do EKGs or CATSCANs as part of an annual exam. Instead, they look for indications that such tests might be necessary.  If critical symptoms are observed, they refer you to specialists. In the same way, a competent home inspector is looking for conditions that might warrant further evaluation by specialists such as plumbers, electricians, geotechnical engineers, or registered environmental assessors.

It might surprise you to know how very thorough many home inspectors are in their forensic duties; how able competent home inspectors are to find significant defects without the use of sophisticated testing devices.

As for referrals by real estate agents, there are many reasons why agents recommend particular home inspectors. Some refer the inspectors they believe will provide the most thorough disclosure, while others refer inspectors who are not so thorough and are perceived as less likely to scare away their buyers. Either way, it takes persistent marketing to develop a base of agents who will routinely recommend you to their clients.

Home Inspector Minimized Major Problems

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: When we bought our home, we hired a home inspector who was recommended by our real estate agent. The inspection report contained what appeared to be two minor disclosures: “minor lean to the home” and “some minor seepage in the basement during heavy rain.” The only recommendation was “monitor for further movement.” After we moved in, the rains came, and none of this turned out to be “minor.” For nearly three months, we had a foot of water in the basement. The contractor we hired found that the house is leaning nearly 9 inches. Leveling the home and fixing the drainage will cost many thousands of dollars. We do not believe our home inspector did a competent job. Instead, he portrayed major defects as no big deal. Who is liable for the repairs, and what can we do about it?  Tim

Dear Tim: There are two problems with the disclosures in the home inspection report: 1) Conditions such as leaning of a building and water intrusion in a basement should not be presumed to be minor; and 2) Such conditions warrant further evaluation by qualified experts. Faulty drainage should have been reviewed by a geotechnical engineer. Leaning of the building called for analysis by a structural engineer. What you needed was someone who is licensed in both fields of engineering.

Instead of recommending that you “monitor for further movement,” the inspection report should have said, “Further evaluation by a qualified, licensed engineer is recommended prior to close of transaction.” Your home inspector’s job was to point out significant defects and to make appropriate recommendations. Building settlement is obviously a major concern, as is water intrusion into the building. Determining the extent of these issues was not something to be done by monitoring movement after you purchased the property. You were in the process of making an important purchase decision. That was why you hired a home inspector. He should have considered this when making his recommendation.

Your home inspector may be liable for faulty disclosure, depending on the inspection contract that you signed and pertinent laws in your state. An attorney should evaluate those issues.

The sellers of the property may also share some liability. If they lived in the home for more than a year, they were probably aware of the drainage problem in the basement and should have disclosed it. And here’s a question for your real estate agent: Was this the most qualified inspector the agent knew? Some agents recommend the best home inspectors; some do not.