Both home inspectors may have missed leak

Q: Before we bought our house, there were two separate home inspections. The first inspector was hired by the sellers and the second inspector was ours. Unfortunately, neither inspector discovered the plumbing problems under the building. Two weeks after we moved in, the cable TV guy found several leaking pipes in the crawl space. Our plumber said the old steel pipes were shot, so we paid to re-pipe the whole house with copper. The plumber also installed temporary ventilation fans to dry the sub-area. So now we have two questions: (1) Are the home inspectors liable for the cost of repairing our home? (2) Should we install permanent ventilation fans to prevent water damage and dry rot?

A: Surprisingly, two home inspectors failed to notice and report the leaks and deteriorated plumbing. As for liability, the home inspectors should have been notified of the problem before replacing the old pipes. Most home inspection contracts specify that defects discovered after the inspection must be reported to the inspector, before repairs are made, so that the inspector can see the conditions under complaint.

While both inspectors may have been professionally negligent, it can be argued that the leak did not occur during the inspections and that the pipes may not have been visibly defective. The fact that neither inspector reported moisture under the building points to the possibility that the leak occurred later. Unfortunately, all the evidence has been removed from the scene. Therefore, the inspectors have a legal liability.

Now that the leakage has been remedied, it is no longer necessary to install permanent ventilation fans under the building. Run the temporary fans until the area is dry. Also make sure that the screened vents in the partition walls provide cross ventilation and that there is at least one square foot of vent for every 150 square feet of floor space.

Q: Our house is currently for sale and we are concerned about the structure. A contractor inspected the foundation and said it should be raised about an inch. Our real estate agent is of the opinion that the house will not pass the inspection if we do not have the foundation work done. Should we rely on our agent’s recommendation or are there other ways to address this issue?

A: Before starting repairs, have the foundation inspected by a certified structural engineer. An engineer is better qualified to make these types of assessments and may or may not agree with the contractor’s findings. If the engineering report is positive, you can use that document to assure buyers of structural stability. If the mechanic recommends upgrades or repairs, you can get quotes from three separate contractors. At that point, you can make the repair or submit the bids as part of your disclosure statement. Adhering to this recipe can help clear up uncertainties about the foundation and meet your full disclosure requirement.

• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.

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