October 15, 2011 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver
Last time we told you about readers who purchased a house in February after receiving a good report from a home inspector. When warmer months arrived and the A/C was turned on, it did not work.
They believed the inspector should have discovered the problem and wanted to file suit for the $8,500 it cost to completely replace their very old system. After reading the inspection report, two lawyers told them they didn’t have a case. But a third attorney was willing to proceed – upon payment of $7,500 – even promising to get their attorney fees back “when we win.”
“But that’s not going to happen,” concluded Philadelphia lawyer, Joe Ferry, “for one very good reason,” he told You and the Law: “The inspector’s report stated in very clear language that the A/C system was not tested, and could not have been safely tested, due to the fact that it was winter and simply too cold.”
Ferry is in a good position to know this, representing home inspectors across the country when claims are made against them. He maintains a blog, Joeferry.com, and while primarily intended for home inspectors, it is informative, well written and hysterically funny at times. What we most appreciate about the blog is that it reveals Ferry’s deep sense of fairness.
Six problem areas
“There is so much that the public does not understand about what a home inspection entails. It is legally defined as a limited, noninvasive, visual examination of the home’s condition.
“Think of an inspection as a snapshot – a moment in time – of the home’s condition that day. The inspector’s job it to examine the home according to nationally accepted standards of practice and write a report of what was found,” he told us.
We learned that most complaints about a home inspector missing something fall into six areas which are not within the inspection standards and, unless specifically contracted for, simply are not part of what the inspector will be looking at. “It really is so important for clients to understand what the inspector is both contractually agreeing to and able to report on,” Ferry stressed.
These six areas include:
1) Issues which cannot be observed because the problem is concealed behind walls or flooring, such as mold behind drywall. “When we say noninvasive, it means the inspector isn’t going to start poking holes in walls,” he explained.
2) A claim for something which cannot possibly be determined by looking at a house, such as easements, title, liens, boundaries, permits, underground pipes and building code violations.
3) A claim for something which normally would be inspected, but could not be due to weather conditions – a roof covered by ice and snow -or access problems, such as a locked closet or room. “Safety is a real concern, and inspectors are not required to navigate around so much clutter in an attic, basement or other room where they could be injured or fall. So, the report will typically state why no opinion could be given at that time.”
4) Claims for something which was concealed, “often, later found to have been deliberately concealed by sellers,” he notes. “Inspectors do not move or disturb things. They do not move carpets, screens in basements, garages cluttered with stuff. Issues which turn up later and which were concealed are common. Self-defense is one reason why inspectors take lots of photos to show that what might be claimed later was hidden by furniture or other items.”
5) Something which was working at the time of the inspection, but days or months later was not. A toilet can be working fine at 9 a.m., but not a day later. An A/C unit may be working fine in June, but not in July. Home inspectors cannot determine the life span of appliances, heaters, A/C units and so on.
6) Something which cannot be adequately tested, such as an A/C in winter, or heating in summer. The report will almost always note that.
What homeowners should do, but usually don’t
“Before the inspection is conducted, you want to read the materials and know what is going to be looked at. There might be other things you can have added to the inspection which should be set out in writing,” he recommends.
“Be there or have a family member present and follow the inspector – they want that – and ask any questions you have at that time. Don’t be shy.”
“Finally,” the Philadelphia lawyer concludes, “Read the inspector’s report before marching off to an attorney. Chances are that your complaint was already covered. Yes, inspectors do miss things, but not often. Usually, homeowners or their own attorneys fail to read the report, for if they did, I would be out of a job,” he said, with a big smile.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.