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Barry Stone, Home Inspector:

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Articles by Barry Stone- America's Home Inspector
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Price-Shopping for Home Inspectors

The House Detective
by Barry Stone, Certified Building Inspector

Dear Barry: Before we bought our home, we called five home inspectors to compare quotes for an inspection. What surprised us was the wide range in prices. By shopping around, we saved nearly $200 on the price of our inspection. Why do some inspectors charge so much more for the same service? Jan

Dear Jan: Home inspectors don't charge more for the same service. In nearly every case, they charge more because their inspection services are more thorough and more comprehensive, because they are significantly more experienced at inspecting homes, and because they disclose more of the conditions that would be of concern to you as a buyer. Inspectors who charge less, particularly those who charge $200 less, are generally new to the inspection business and lack the skills to perform the kind of inspection you, as a buyer, would want. They charge less because, as brand new inspectors, they are trying to jump-start their fledgling businesses. The question you should now be asking isn't "why do some inspectors charge so much more?", but rather, "what defects did my bargain home inspector fail to disclose?"

When shopping for a home inspector, the last question you should ask is "how much is the fee?" The primary and essential questions are:
1) How long have you been a home inspector?
2) How many homes have you inspected?
3) What are your professional credentials?

The purchase price of your home was probably in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. An investment of this size warrants a degree of scrutiny that far outweighs the value of a $200 savings in the cost of an inspection. The defects that await discovery by a qualified home inspector might involve repair costs of several hundred or several thousand dollars. These defects could involve significant safety issues related to electrical, heating, and fireplace systems, the integrity of the roof, the framing construction in the attic, the foundations, ground drainage, etc.

The ability of a home inspector to discover the many possible defects in a home increases with years of professional experience, and home inspectors who acquire high levels of such experience set their prices accordingly and fairly. Homebuyers who price-shop for their home inspection are hereby warned that they will get what they pay for.

To read more of Barry's published articles, visit www.housedetective.com


"Deal Killer" Hopes to Enlighten Agents

The House Detective
by Barry Stone, Certified Building Inspector

Dear Barry: As a home inspector for many years, I try to do the best job I can. But when I talk to real estate agents, they continually brush me off as a possible deal killer or an unnecessary impediment to the closing of an escrow. Do you have any statistics on claims or lawsuits filed against agents that would help convince them that we home inspectors actually protect them from being sued? Larry

Dear Larry: Disclosure lawsuits against real estate agents are reportedly on the rise, but statistics are not readily available. Whether these numbers would change many attitudes in the real estate industry is uncertain. There are agents who simply want to close escrow and do not believe that litigation can happen to them. The only remedy for that kind of denial is to get sued. Then they might understand that home inspectors protect their interests, not just the interests of homebuyers.

Every experienced home inspector knows the frustration of being labeled a "deal killer" simply for trying to do a good job for homebuyers. In fact, the home inspection profession may be the only business in which doing a good job can be bad for business.

Fortunately, there are real estate agents who recognize the risks of disclosure liability and are governed by high ethical standards. They are the ones who appreciate the value of a truly qualified home inspector. All you can do is build your business on the support of those top quality agents, the ones who value excellence as much as you do.

To read more of Barry's published articles, visit www.housedetective.com

Buyer Worried About Asbestos Air Ducts

The House Detective
by Barry Stone, Certified Building Inspector

Dear Barry: We purchased our home about 10 months ago. Since then, we have had the air ducts professionally cleaned and learned that they are lined with asbestos. One section is damaged and therefore dangerous. At this point, we are debating whether we should replace the damaged section or the entire duct system. What do you recommend? Sara

Dear Sara: One point needs to be clarified. Air ducts in older homes were often insulated with asbestos. But it is highly unusual for air ducts to be lined with asbestos. Make sure that you are getting a proper description of the situation. Is the asbestos insulation located on the outer or inner surfaces of the ducts? If the insulation is on the outer surfaces, as is most common, then the asbestos is not in contact with the air stream into your home and will not adversely affect the health of occupants. If the asbestos is located on the inner surfaces, replacement with new ducting is highly recommended. And be sure that asbestos removal, if any, is done by a licensed asbestos abatement contractor.

To read more of Barry's published articles, visit www.housedetective.com

Broker Denies That Agents Avoid "Deal Killers"

The House Detective
by Barry Stone, Certified Building Inspector

Dear Barry: As a real estate broker, I read your column regularly and with great interest. But some of your articles trouble me. They suggest that Realtors routinely avoid the most thorough home inspectors; that they even label good inspectors as "deal killers." This charge seems unfair and in poor taste. Good agents, whether they represent buyers or sellers, want an inspector to perform a thorough inspection.  Would you be willing to rethink your position on this? Terry

Dear Terry: Let's both give some thought to this issue.

The articles you mention were never intended to offend, but to shed light on an entrenched ethics problem that infects, not all, but many in the real estate profession: Namely, the conflict of interest when Realtors refer home inspectors to their clients. Some will flinch at the voicing of this matter, preferring to deny its existence. But there is an elephant in the room, and it cries to be recognized.

The trunk of the problem is this: Agents do not get paid until the sale is completed, and defect disclosure can make buyers change their minds about the sale. Since the best home inspectors disclose more defects, a large number of real estate agents regard the best home inspectors as "deal killers" -- not because those inspectors actually kill deals, but because their thoroughness engenders the fear that they might kill a deal. As a result, some agents do not refer the best inspectors to their clients. Meanwhile, unwary clients assume that they are getting top-notch home inspection referrals from their agents.

On the other hand, there are many excellent agents who truly represent the interests of their clients; who recognize the value of total and unabridged disclosure. Those agents are the shining stars of the profession, the ones who recommend only the most thorough and qualified home inspectors to clients. Realtors of this caliber deserve praise and recognition for the exemplary work that they do.

Thus, we have two dissimilar groups of agents -- the compromised and the committed -- separated by an ethical divide that tarnishes the public image of the real estate industry, while jeopardizing the financial interests of trusting homebuyers.

Home inspection may be the only profession where good work discourages referrals. If that were not so, only the best inspectors would be recommended by Realtors. Instead, many referrals go to inspectors who are inexperienced and less than thorough in their findings.

Articles that expose these facts are thought by some to be in poor taste. What is more distasteful, however, is to mislead a trusting homebuyer in the choice of a home inspector. If such practices were not so common, there would no need for articles such as this one. Hopefully, this problem will be addressed once and for all by leaders within the real estate profession.

To read more of Barry's published articles, visit www.housedetective.com


Home Inspector Misjudges Water Heater

The House Detective
by Barry Stone, Certified Building 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: A home inspector who predicts that a water heater will be good for many years is clearly liable if the fixture fails soon after the inspection. Experienced home inspectors know better than to make such predictions.

Home inspectors routinely determine the age of a water heaters by reading the serial number on the label. This was probably how your plumber made that determination. If your home inspector had done the same, he would not have predicted that the fixture "would be good for many years." Competent inspectors rarely comment on the longevity of a water heater, except to point out that an old one may have limited remaining life.

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. 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.

To read more of Barry's published articles, visit www.housedetective.com

Seller Complains About Roof Disclosure

The House Detective
by Barry Stone, Certified Building Inspector

Dear Barry: The people who are buying my home hired a home inspector, and no major problems were listed in the report. But the buyers are concerned about the roof because the inspector checked it off as "poor," even though he found no particular defects. He simply said that it was near the end of its functional life. Why would an inspector make this disclosure when the roof is still functional? Matt

Dear Matt: Home inspectors walk a thin line between the reporting of significant defects and the avoidance of liability and lawsuits. Some inspectors are overly cautious in this regard and tend to word their disclosures in ways that reduce their liability. Sometimes, this is done by reporting that a functional roof may be "near the end of its functional life."

On the other hand, a roof that is still in functional condition may show signs of aging that truly indicate that it is nearing the end of its functional life. A home inspector who fails to state this in a report could be liable 2 or 3 years later, when the roof finally begins to leak.

If this disclosure has become a showstopper in the sale of your home, a second opinion by a licensed roofing contractor may be needed. However, roofing contractors face the same liability problem as home inspectors. Therefore, you may get another "nearing the end of life" disclosure.

To read more of Barry's published articles, visit www.housedetective.com

Firewall Requirements in Garages

The House Detective
by Barry Stone, Certified Building Inspector

Dear Barry: I have several questions involving garage firewalls. What materials should be used to finish a garage firewall? What type of entry door is required in a firewall between a garage and a house? Why are no penalties imposed on home inspectors who fail to report firewall violations? And finally, are sellers required to disclose firewall violations in a garage? Deb

Dear Deb: A garage firewall is commonly covered with 5/8-inch fire-rated drywall, with all seams taped. Wall penetrations such as ducts must be made of metal. A door through a firewall can be a solid core slab door with a minimum thickness of 1 3/8 inches, it can be a sheet metal door, or it can be a 20-minute, fire-rated panel door. A fire door must also be self-closing, typically accomplished with a spring hinge.

Failure of a home inspector to disclose a substandard firewall or fire door is often a matter of professional negligence. A common exception would be a firewall that has 1/2-inch drywall only. Unless the edges of the drywall are exposed, it is not always possible to determine the thickness of the material.

Sellers are required to disclose defects of which they are aware. Most sellers, however, have no knowledge of firewall requirements and would be unaware of related violations.

To read more of Barry's published articles, visit www.housedetective.com

Should Home Inspectors Inspect Heat Exchangers

The House Detective
by Barry Stone, Certified Building Inspector

Dear Barry: We purchased our home about 6 months ago, and our home inspector said the furnace was in good condition. But this week our heating contractor found a crack in the heat exchanger. The cost to us for parts not covered by the warranty policy is over $1000. Our home inspector says the heat exchanger is not covered in a home inspection. But the heating contractor showed us the crack. It is plainly visible and could have been seen by our inspector if he had taken the time to look. Is it fair that he should not be liable for this omission? Bill

Dear Bill: Home inspection contracts typically list heat exchangers as outside the scope of a home inspection. Likewise, industry standards, as defined by state and national associations, define heat exchangers as outside the scope. The reason for this disclaimer is that most heat exchangers are partially or totally inaccessible and cannot be inspected without dismantling the furnace.

Unfortunately, this escape clause has led many home inspectors to overlook visible defects that could have been reported to buyers, if the inspector had simply looked into the burner chambers. The purpose of the disclaimer is to protect home inspectors from frivolous claims for cracks that could not have been seen. But many damaged heat exchangers have been identified by concerned home inspectors. Cracks in the lower portions of a firebox can sometimes be seen by shining a flashlight into the burner orifice. Rust flakes, black soot, or faulty flame patterns can also alert a home inspector to possible defects, if only the inspector will take to look.

The job of a home inspector is to report conditions that are "visible" and "accessible."  If the crack in your heat exchanger is visible and accessible, that fact should override the disclaimer for inspection of heat exchangers. You should arrange for the home inspector to reinspect your furnace. Point out to him that the crack is visible and insist that he take responsibility for not having reported it. If he doesn't agree, ask him to submit the matter to arbitration or mediation.

To read more of Barry's published articles, visit www.housedetective.com



When to Get a Building Permit

The House Detective
by Barry Stone, Certified Building Inspector

Dear Barry: I'm planning to modify the interior of my condo and want to know if I need a permit. The project involves the construction of additional walls to make a bedroom and closet. I've hired a licensed engineer to draw up my structural plans, and I intent to do the work according to his specifications. What risks do I face if the work is done without a permit? Scott

Dear Scott: When you alter a building without a permit, you should consider the issue of disclosure when you eventually sell the property. By law, you must inform buyers of all significant defects, and that would include work done without permits. In that case, a buyer might insist that you obtain an as-built permit. The building department could then require full restoration of the living space to its original condition or removal of drywall to enable inspection of the added framing and electrical wiring.

Since you've already done the hardest part of project preparation -- having plans engineered and drawn -- why not go the extra step and have everything done "according to Hoyle." Remember, the code mandates the taking of a permit. Therefore, work that is not permitted cannot, by definition, be said to comply with code, regardless of how perfectly it is executed.

To read more of Barry's published articles, visit www.housedetective.com


Inspector Unwilling to Disclose Mold

The House Detective
by Barry Stone, Certified Building Inspector


Dear Barry: In one of your articles, you faulted a home inspector for failing to disclose mold that was present in a home. As a professional home inspector, this misinformation concerns me. Your readers should be told that mold and all other environmental issues are not covered under the standards of practice for the home inspection profession. No home inspector is required to investigate or report on such things, and your readers should be informed of that fact. Please clarify this in an upcoming article. Wayne

Dear Wayne: Environmental hazards such as mold are not within the scope of a home inspection, and home inspectors are not expected to report on such issues. But that does not let home inspectors off the hook completely. So let's have some clarity on this issue.

In cases where mold is visible on accessible surfaces -- beneath a kitchen sink, on a bathroom windowsill, in a plumbing access, or the corner of a closet -- what should a home inspector do? Should the inspector ignore that condition and say nothing about it, simply because mold is not within the scope of the inspection? To do so would constitute professional negligence. Instead, the inspector should point out the "stains" and recommend further evaluation by a mold specialist. If that point was not clear in the article that you read, then this one should provide that clarity.

To read more of Barry's published articles, visit www.housedetective.com

Drainage Problem in Basement

The House Detective
by Barry Stone, Certified Building Inspector

Dear Barry: My new house has a major drainage problem in the basement. The builder installed a sump pump that operates constantly because of excessive ground water. It stopped working during a power failure, which caused flooding and mold. According to my builder, there is no code requirement to drain water away from my house. Is this true? Cas

Dear Cas: Depending on which version of the building code is used in your area, the Code definitely contains standards for site drainage around buildings.

According to section 1804.7 of the Uniform Building Code, "Provisions shall be made for the control and drainage of surface water around buildings."

If the International Residential Code (IRC) applies in your area, Section R405 states, "Drains shall be provided around all concrete or masonry foundations that retain earth and enclose habitable or usable spaces located below grade." Obviously, that would include basements. Furthermore, Section R406 of the IRC contains detailed specifications for the waterproofing of concrete and masonry basement walls.

Any builder who tells you differently is wrong.

To read more of Barry's published articles, visit www.housedetective.com


Inspector Misses Recalled Furnace

The House Detective
by Barry Stone, Certified Building 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.

To read more of Barry's published articles, visit www.housedetective.com

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