Home inspection red flags

Buyers correct to question advice on defects, structural integrity

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted May. 2, 2011

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Buyers correct to question advice on defects, structural integrity

Barry Stone
Inman News™

DEAR BARRY: Is it better to find your own home inspector or to hire the one chosen by the real estate agent? We're looking at an old home, and the agent's inspector says there's nothing wrong with the place. His report states that "it's structurally sound," but we're plagued with concerns. The electric outlets are the old two-prong kind, but the inspection report said nothing about this. Shouldn't this have been mentioned in the inspection report? --Stephan

DEAR STEPHAN: Reliance on a real estate agent's home inspector is not necessarily a right or wrong decision. Many agents endorse only the best inspectors, while others recommend those of lesser qualifications. Your job is to do some homework to guard your own financial interests.

Rather than reject an inspector outright, simply because the referral was made by an agent, you should review the credentials of several home inspectors, including the one advised by your agent. Then hire the person with the most experience and the best reputation for thoroughness.

In your situation, however, there are some items of concern. The first red flag was waved when the home inspector said "there's nothing wrong with the place." No house is totally free of defects. Even the most well-constructed, brand-new home has conditions that warrant correction. In an old home, the suggestion that there is "nothing wrong" is a challenge to common sense.

A second red flag is the inspector's comment that the house is "structurally sound." Home inspectors, unless they are also licensed structural engineers, are not qualified to assess structural integrity. Without an engineering degree, an inspector may say that no evidence of foundation damage or building settlement was observed, but definite statements regarding structural soundness are out of bounds for most home inspectors.

As for the two-prong electrical outlets, these are typical in old homes. Upgrade is not required because they were legal at the time of construction. But ungrounded outlets are potentially unsafe. Home inspectors should point these out as items that warrant future upgrade.

DEAR BARRY: Our inspector reported that the water heater in the garage was installed without a raised platform, but he added that a platform is not mandatory because the house was built in 1960, before the platform became a code requirement. After we moved in, the gas company "red-tagged" the water heater. They say a platform is required, regardless of the age of the building. Is our home inspector liable for this mistake? --Kelly

DEAR KELLY: In 1960, water heaters were routinely installed on garage floors. A few years later, platforms were mandated to prevent pilot lights from igniting gasoline fumes. The deciding factor today is not the age of the house, but the age of the water heater. If the original water heater was still in place, it's legality on the garage floor could be argued. But few 1960 water heaters still exist. Yours is most likely a newer fixture, installed when raised platforms were required. Therefore, the gas company is correct, and your home inspector should have known this.

Call your home inspector and ask for a review of the situation. If he maintains his position, suggest that he consult the local building department regarding water heater safety requirements.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.

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