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

Broker Angry About Home Inspection Forms

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I am the broker of a large real estate company. In my area, most home inspectors use computerized reports, with photos of the defects they disclose. Very few still use the old fashioned, hand-written forms, and I seldom give my business to those backward dinosaurs. One of those technophobes is the most experienced home inspector in my area. He usually finds defects that are missed by other home inspectors. In fact, he even finds problems that are missed by the termite inspectors. But I can’t stand his lousy 1990 carbon copy reports. They’re hard to read and harder to email. So I never refer this Neanderthal to my clients. But when other agents refer him, his reports make me so mad I could pull out my hair. What is it that keeps these closed-minded idiots from getting with today’s high tech program?  Yuli

Dear Yuli: Sit down and cool off. Businesses today are in technological transition, including home inspection and real estate companies. Most home inspectors have made the change to electronic reporting, but a few remain stuck in their old ways. Some are part-time inspectors, without a major commitment to the business. Others are comfortable in their routines and have little interest in state-of-the-art innovations. And there are some professionals who recognize the need to modernize but have been too busy inspecting homes to invest in change.

Old style reports are not as user-friendly as the new electronic versions that include photographs of defects. On the other hand, not all computer reports are as easy to read as they ought to be.  In some reports, the defect disclosures are obscured by paragraphs of “boiler plate” verbiage. In others, the disclosures are so vague that the defects cannot be readily understood. But all of these issues are eclipsed by the essential purpose of home inspection: to disclose property defects.

You admit that the “Neanderthal”, “dinosaur”, “technophobe”, “idiot” who does not get your business is the most thorough home inspector available; that he finds problems that other home inspectors miss. This means that the “high tech” reports that your clients receive from other home inspectors do not provide complete disclosure of all significant defects. It means that you prefer those incomplete reports to the out-dated, carbon copy reports that contain more actual disclosures. The question, therefore, has shifted. Instead of old report forms vs. new electronic reports, the issue has become partial disclosure vs. full disclosure of property defects. In other words, form vs. substance.

If this is the choice, which do you suppose is more important to your home-buying clients? Would they prefer full disclosure or fancy disclosure? And what about your liability as a broker? How would you defend yourself if sued for incomplete disclosure? Would you tell the jury that you avoid thorough home inspectors who don’t print fancy reports? That would hardly invite a favorable verdict.

So here is the bottom line: Home inspectors who take their business seriously should find a comprehensive electronic report system to maintain viability in the marketplace. Meanwhile, Realtors should recommend the most thorough home inspectors available, regardless of the style of reports they generate. In either business, it’s all about representing the best interests of clients, while limiting liability.

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.

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.

Unfair Blaming of Home Inspectors

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: As a home inspector for many years, I’ve been caught in the “you-broke-it,–you-pay-to-fix-it” bind. My question is simple: When is a home inspector responsible for things that break? Tile roofs are not designed to be walked on, so a home inspector should pay for tiles that break under foot. But I’ve been asked to repair wood trim because I pushed my finger through some dryrot. I’ve paid for faucets that would not turn off after being operated, for a garage door that disconnected from its track when I tested it, and for a casement window that fell from its frame when opened. Is it right for home inspectors to bear the costs of such repairs? Marshall

Dear Marshall: Your dilemma is the common experience of most home inspectors. Nearly all can relay stories of unfair liability; of fixtures that chose the moment of the inspector’s touch to leak, break, disassemble, or otherwise fail to function.

There was the main water shutoff valve that wouldn’t reopen after the inspector turned it off. The inner parts of that 30-year-old valve were totally corroded, awaiting the moment when some unsuspecting soul would turn it off. That someone was the home inspector; so he had to buy a new valve.

There was the old garage door opener that would not reverse and might have injured or killed someone caught beneath it. When the home inspector tested it, his resistance caused the chain to break. The old opener needed to be replaced anyway because it did not comply with current child safety standards. But because it broke when tested, it became the home inspector’s responsibility.

There was the microwave oven, which, according to the seller, had worked that morning. But when tested by the home inspector, it was suddenly unresponsive to the control buttons. All the inspector had done was press the time controls, but his presence when the fixture died was enough to require his purchase of a new unit.

There was the forced air furnace that worked perfectly during the course of the home inspection but was suddenly inoperative that evening when the homeowner returned from work. All the inspector had done was turn it on, watch it run, and turn it off. But he was the last one to operate the old system prior to its unexpected expiration. So, repair costs were demanded of the inspector.

And of course, there is the touchy subject of tile roof inspections. Obviously, a home inspector should pay for tiles that are broken during the inspection. But what about the inspector who discovers tiles that are already broken and is then accused of having broken those tiles?

These situations are the real-life experiences of home inspectors who perform their professional duties in an honest and diligent manner. There are times when home inspectors are truly liable for damages that occur in the course of an inspection. But there are as many cases where liability is unfairly imposed on home inspectors. In many instances, inspectors pay for these arbitrary claims, simply to main good customer relations. Justice and equity can be desired in these situations, but can only be found on a hit-and-miss basis.

Inspector Misses Recalled Furnace

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: When we purchased our home, the home inspection report listed the furnace as “serviceable.” After moving in, we had problems with heating, so we called a heating contractor. He said we have a Premier furnace that was recalled because of major safety problems. So now we have to buy a new furnace. Our Realtor says the home inspector is responsible. But the home inspector says he can’t be expected to know about every product that’s been recalled. Is the home inspector liable for having approved the furnace, or are we stuck with the expense ourselves? Jessica

Dear Jessica: Home inspectors, in most cases, are not liable for product recall notices. But the Premier furnace matter is not a typical recall. It is probably the most widely publicized, most well known recall to occur in many years. It has been a frequent subject of discussion among home inspectors, and even among Realtors, since 1999, the topic of seminars, trade journals, even newspaper articles.

It would be difficult for a home inspector to have missed the issue, unless he were new to the inspection business. For a qualified home inspector, failure to recognize a Premier furnace as a potential safety hazard constitutes professional negligence.

It should be noted, however, that not all Premier furnaces are subject to the recall. This only applies to models equipped with nox rods in the burner chambers. These fixtures can be identified by the “x” at the end of the model number. On the other hand, Premier models that are not subject to the recall often have problems with the venting of combustion exhaust. A home inspector who carefully examines furnaces while they are in operation would notice this.

Your home inspector should reconsider the matter of his liability and let this be a professional learning experience.