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Hold the home inspector liable?
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posted
We purchased our home almost 2 years ago. It is a ranch built in 1950. Recently, some tile became loose in the shower. When I went to pull them off to replace them, I noticed the drywall underneath was "mushy". One thing led to another and I have pulled everything out down to the studs. Underneath, there was dampness and mold all the way to the ceiling along the entire wall except for above the window. (This is an outside wall and we live in a cold northern midewestern state). At first we thought that the loose tile leak had caused moisture to get into the wall, and because they had used regular dry wall and fiberglass insulation (packed very tightly), that the moisture just wicked up the wall. However, when we went into the attic to try to intall a fan, we noticed that the leak was probably coming from the point at which the roof meets the wall and that it had been happening for YEARS. The wood was so rotten out in that spot that we can see the siding from the inside. I have MANY questions, but my first one is: When the house inspector came before we purchased, he went up into the attic and did not catch this. Could all this happen in less than 2 years? If not, can he be liable for not catching this?
 
Posts: 6 | Registered: 13 March 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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A lot of damage can occur in two years, but it sounds likely that the problem began before then. Liability is extremely difficult to prove, though, especially since the damage has worsened as time has past. I assume, since you're asking, that you don't have a 2-10 home buyer's insurance. If you do, though, that would be the place to start, and let the insurance company worry about any possible litigation.
 
Posts: 273 | Location: VA, AL, GA | Registered: 23 October 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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First off let me say if I sound bitter do not take this personally. As this question has been asked a few times. I find it amazing that people always want someone else to pay for their problems. Also please understand that there are many inspectors who do good quality work and take issues like this personally. Such as myself. I do know there are inspectors that like other trades do not belong in this profession. So this following rant is for those of us who do a good quality inspection and over the years have taken the time to learn how a home is built and works.

As a home inspector that has performed close to ten-thousand inspections over the years I love it when a home owner feels that a home inspector is liable for their problems.
You must remember that a home inspector has a limited amount of time to evaluate a home. He or she is responsible for looking at hundreds if not thousands of potential issues throughout a house in only a few hours time.

There are many factors that would determine if an inspector would be liable. Such as weather during the time of the inspection. The ability of the inspector to view the suspect area. Temperatures in the attic. What distractions the inspector had while doing the inspection. The due diligence of the buyer to review the inspection report and act on suggestions that were made. Did the inspector have experience in determining if a past leak was still active? Was the attic filled with storage and limited the inspector’s visibility? Did the inspector find or miss a lot of other items. Or was it just this one.
What would have changed if he did find this problem? Would the seller address this issue, or perhaps handle it like any of the others that came up? I know many buyers say in court that they would not have bought the house if they “Knew” that the issue was there. (I do expert witness testimony and see this at almost every court case) We all know that is a bunch of hogwash. I have seen people buy homes that the inspection report did all it could have without telling the person not to buy the home but still move ahead and then end up going after the inspector later and winning awards from jury.

A home inspection is not going to catch every thing. Find every defect, and is not a warranty. If you wanted a warranty you could have purchased one from the agent’s office, or spent several thousand dollars on the inspection that would have provided such warranty. But I am sure you only spent around $300 for the structural plus extras. What do you expect?

I always find it amazing that new owners can remember a conversation that happened years prior but forget that they signed an agreement explaining that the inspection was basically a snap-shot in time and that things can and will change over time and that they agreed not to hold the inspector liable if things show up or other issues are found once the house becomes vacant or after you move in.

I know you do have recourse to go after this person. Even if it’s hard to prove. But with legal fees and what trial jury’s are awarding most likely you will prevail.
I know I got out of this ugly business a few years back because of people like you who think it’s our job to warranty your home. I had people come to me after eight years telling me it was my fault that they had leaks because I told them that the roof should last another 10 years. Do people ever hear of maintenance of a home? It took you two years to go into the attic after the inspection to find this issue. Why did you not ask the inspector to check this concern out? Did you ask him to re-visit the house after you found the problem in the attic? Or did you just call a contractor in to evaluate the attic. My bet the contractor who came to provide you with an estimate to fix this said, “Did you have a home inspection when you purchased this home? He should have found this and told you about it.” Of course the contractor is not a home inspector nor was he or she aware of what was or was not inspected or the conditions that were present during this inspection. A responsible contractor should keep their mouths shut and fix the problem not make more.

Were you not at the inspection? Did you not ask to go into the attic and at least view it so you can ask questions? Most likely you were to busy with the realtor while he or she was distracting you from this most valuable time. Did you do a pre-settlement walk through inspection? That is the time that everything is out of the house. If the attic was filled with garbage and it was noted on the report that there was limited visibility, you should have looked up there again to see if anything was uncovered. My bet is you did not.

Did you know that most people spend more time looking at an auto purchase then a home? Yet when the car breaks down you hardly ever hear of someone suing the mechanic, they just fix the issue and move on. But for some un-known reason when it comes to the house they sue everyone they can find that walked on the property.
 
Posts: 1933 | Location: New Jersey | Registered: 31 January 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I'm not going to comment on who should be liable to pay for what. God knows I've had some pretty outlandish reasons given to me on why I should pay for some things. I do also agree that a home inspector isn't going to find every single thing wrong with a house, nor should he/she be expected to. I also don't believe a home inspector should be digging around all the insulation in the attic for moisture. However if a whole wall of a bathroom is full of moisture and mold - I do think that falls into the "reasonable expectations" category of what to expect from a home inspection. I've walked through a few home inspections and every single one of them always carry a moisture meter. They slide them along a wall or floor and it detects if there is any moisture behind the surface.

Also, every single one of them always pay a lot of attention to moisture in the bathrooms, obviously because the bathroom is a high moisture area. Some measure more than others but every one of them measured both floor and walls in the bathroom for moisture below the surface. It, of course, makes sense to do this.

Again, I'm not going to comment on who should pay for what, or if the mold was there before or after the inspection - I do however believe that IF this moisture was readable with a moisture meter then the building inspector should have noted this on the report. It's also not the inspectors job to tell someone if they should or should not buy a house. It's their job to let the home owner know what deficiencies are in the house by way of the printed (written) report supplied to the homeowner.

On a side note, there should be much more regulatoin of the home inspection industry. Most states don't require any kind of licensing or training to become a home inspector. Any average joe can buy a moisture meter and a flashlight and go into business claiming to be a home inspector. While there are a lot of good, experienced inspectors out there - there's plenty of people who talk a good talk too.


General Contractor/Home Builder
 
Posts: 498 | Location: Minnesota | Registered: 15 January 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I do agree with you Jay, In NJ and many other states they do have licence requirements. Many of the states however the license is just a cash cow for the state and have no teeth. But being in NJ ours is quite difficult to obtain. But I have the chance to see many reports from many companies because of the services my company provides and most of them do not provide to much information to their client.Many of the real estate agents like it that way. There is a saying in our industry "your only as good as your last inspection" For me I could care less what the agents want me to provide. Most of my clients come from other clients friends and family. Lawyers also call quite often.

As far as pulling up insulation etc. I agree but from what I gathered from the post was the the damage was able to be seen from a leak from the roof not hidden by insulation below, but could be wrong.

In NJ we are required to have moisture meters. Most do not use them and many of them that do, do not know how to use it properly. If I see something that looks related to a moisture issue. I could care less if its wet. I still test but just for my information to help find out if its current or old. And that can be hard if they have a leak in a bath and no longer use it. I call it out as a potential issue and suggest a professional look into the stain further or tell them to ask the owner to identify why this stain is present. I do look further for the cause to help identify it though.
In the case of this persons problem I believe nothing was said about stains inside the bathroom, which is common as many folks paint to hide issues before the inspection takes place. As a seasoned inspector, any time I find fresh paint the hair on my neck goes up and I look harder to find out why. A general overview of the house will tell me if they are just neat freaks or if the rest of the house is a pig pen, then they are trying to hide something.

I also agree with the who should pay for what. But in my industry I have seen to many folks blaming the other guy and not taking responsibility for their own actions. But because of our messed up legal system McDonalds comes to mind here, Jury awards often side with the consumer and could care less about the inspector as they have insurance so the jury feels its not really coming out of the pocket of the inspector.
I am sure you get my point.
 
Posts: 1933 | Location: New Jersey | Registered: 31 January 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Sometimes having liability insurance will get you sued when you otherwise wouldn't have been, and what's really delightful is when the insurance company defends you and then as soon as your deductible is spent, they settle. And then raise your premium, or drop you.


Architect (NY) and Home Designer (PA)
 
Posts: 2870 | Location: Tobyhanna, PA | Registered: 24 October 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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So, I guess the consensus here, doitmyselfgirl, is that you will get some sympathy here, if not much, and no help at all.

I guess we all understand that there are people doing home inspections who are inept, clueless, and unqualified. But they are far out-numbered by the knowledgable, experienced, caring people in the job who are human and can sometimes miss the obvious. Maybe it is 150 degrees in the attic and sweat is running in your eyes.

I think all of the people responding on this board have seen fraud, and ineptitude, and bribery, as have I, but the overwhelming chances are that there was some damage when your house was inspected, but it was honestly missed. We all understand that no home buyer is an expert on the many facets of home construction, but it is so extremely hard to look at an entire house for a couple of hours and find every thing that might possibly be wrong with it without tearing out every single wall.

I'm sure that if you posted your question on a lawyer's board, or an insurance company's board, you would get very different answers, but the people who respond here are construction professionals, and we tend to deal in realities. The reality is that you have a leak and need to fix it, along with the corresponding damage. Who is at fault or is to pay or can be blamed is at best a secondary or tertiary question. Deal with the problem and move on.

That's good advice in general, I think.
 
Posts: 273 | Location: VA, AL, GA | Registered: 23 October 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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First I would like to respond to Home Care Club LLC:
Thank you for your long and thoughtful reply. I am sorry if I offended you. You DO seem rather bitter. :-)
You should know that, first, I am not a litigious person. I have never sued anyone before in my life. I just don't believe that most of the time it is productive. And even IF the inspector was responsible, I seriously doubt I would do anything. I simply can't afford to. I would like to address some of your points:
Since the house is a Ranch style house, the attic is mostly a crawl space that extends the lenghth of the house. There is nothing up there but insulation and rafters. An adult can probably almost stand upright in the very middle, but mostly you have to crawl to see. Not only did I accompany my inspector to every place that he went, I video taped it. When it came to the attic, he crawled around up there while I stood on the ladder with my head in the attic as two people can not be up there at the same time. So I was not "busy with the realtor". Everything was out of the house already when the inspection took place. He did not catch this. From looking at the tape, I think it was because he was spending a lot of time looking at the apex of the attic and on inspecting this large fan we have up there. The problem is located on the side very near to where the roof meet the wall. Considering that you can see the siding from the inside because the wood is rotten away, it is pretty hard to miss. (And yes, I did not see it either. But I am not an expert in these things.) That is also why in my original question I asked if this kind of damage could happen in less than 2 years, admitting the possibility that there was nothing for the inspector to catch.
Our inspector pointed out a few minor things that needed fixed, which we had the owner repair before closing. I also understand that an inspection can not possibly catch everything. We have been diligent about maintaining our home since we moved in. I have not hired a contractor as we are fixing this ourselves, so your "bet" is wrong.

I am angry and offended that you made quite a few assumptions about my actions regarding this issue. I am not "you people" nor am I out to get you. I would have appreciated that you ask me more questions about my situation to clarify before going on the attack, even though you are understandable sensitive.

You need to understand something else. This is the very first home that I have purchased. I am new to the whole experience. The home inspector is in a position of trust. I followed him around, asked questions and took his word for everything he said and wrote up. He was supposed to be the expert and I assumed that when he told me that aside from the few issues he mentioned, that I had a sound home. So yes, I have not been in the attic for two years because up until now, I did not have a reason to be up there.
I am not going to sue him or anyone else. I am going to pay for it and get it fixed. I do still believe, however, that this is something that the home inspector should have caught.
 
Posts: 6 | Registered: 13 March 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I fully understand your frustration in this matter. And I also understand what the inspector was doing in the attic. I also understand that its your first real home and sometimes things can build up and feed off themselves real fast during a renovation project.

My first question to you would be. What caused the leak? Missing shingles? Chimney flashing perhaps? Was there a animal trying to enter? Or a large branch rubbing on the roof wall area? The second would be What was done to fix it. Is the leak still active? If not when was it fixed?

Depending upon the amount of leakage that is occurring or has occurred would depend on how fast the area would deteriorate. Also the kind of material that is decaying. Regular plywood with a very small seepage can take years to become severely damaged to a point of structural failure. While OSB (flake board) can be destroyed on only a few months with the same amount of dampness. If the leak is occurring because of a siding failure what caused this? Flashing failure, damage to wall?

Read your inspection report and see if anything was abnormal in this area on the outside that would trigger looking further on the inside. Seasoned inspectors would do so. Inspectors that have little or no experience often miss clues while looking around a home. Although that’s no excuse. If you filmed the inspection perhaps you caught something on tape on that end of the house?

Still another thought comes to mind. Perhaps he did see it in the attic, and because of the amount of damage he saw, was not concerned as the exterior siding in that area was still fastened properly and did not appear to be of a concern. This is not to say that he should not have put it in the report. But his personal experience as an inspector would dictate that.

What about the sellers disclosure statement? Did they have the house or roof re-done before or is everything the original material. Many contractors that do siding installs simply cover over damaged areas rather then fixing them. Perhaps this was a damaged area from a long time ago and was simply masked over by the seller? There are just to many questions to ask before I would say that the inspector was completely at fault.

Once again please do not take offence to what I wrote. This was not directed to you personally. I attempt to answer questions so other folks like yourself can understand what occurs and what types of problems can arise during their projects and home renovation issues.

If in deed you decided to sue someone what I said in my first response would be kids play if it got to court. I just wanted you to understand if you were going that route, you need to be prepared.
Also please understand. I have been in the trenches of the home industry for over 40 years in one capacity or another. I have heard both sides of many stories, and like I am sure you understand there usually not the same when you speak to both parties involved. Perhaps your not the type of person that feels everyone owes them when things go wrong. And based on your last response I do not think you are. But many folks are always looking for someone else to blame when things go wrong. And sometimes a swift kick can wake them up.
Anyway if you can answer some of the questions I asked perhaps I or someone else can get to the answer your looking for.

Other then that how’s the bath project coming along? Razzer
 
Posts: 1933 | Location: New Jersey | Registered: 31 January 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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HCC Re: Licensing. When it comes to us as builders, I've been asked a couple times if being "Licensed" makes much difference as to the quality of work. I tell them not directly. The main reason why you would want someone who is licensed is because the license itself isn't easy to get - that in itself will weed out a lot of the fly-by-night contractors. As long as the state keeps it tough to get a license, these guys will not be working in a code enforced area. Same goes for home inspections, you say that NJ licensing is tough to get - I can bet that the overall quality of inspectors in NJ is far better than that in a state that doesn't have any requirements for home inspectors.

On a side note, here in Minnesota they passed a law stating that any juristictions who issues building permits has to report to the state if any unlicensed person or company pulls more than one building permit in one year. It's a step in the right direction I think. Now if we can get statewide code enforcement we'll be definitely on the right track...:-)


General Contractor/Home Builder
 
Posts: 498 | Location: Minnesota | Registered: 15 January 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I have to agree on many points. We bought our 1rst home. Got a lawyer who ' red-penciled 'things on the agreement ( lots of things )
As a 1rst time Home Buyer I thought I needed a real-estate lawyer to look over the papers.

As for the Home inspection A: Always have one before a purchase so major. B: Do not get a Home inpector recommended by the realtor. Sometimes they are a relative..or someone who will fast-track a good report to hasten the sale.
C: Do not believe everything the seller or realtor is telling you about the house on face-value. Especially if the realtor is a Seller's Realtor.

Here in PA. there are 2 types; Buyers realtors and sellers realtors. Best thing is a "Buyer's Realtor."
He is working for the the interests of the Home Buyer and not the seller....unfortunately we had( unknownst to us at the time ) no knowledge of the 2 types ).

Getting to the Home inpector himself or herself. They can only spot what is visible. The previous owner was very good at Hiding things. The Home inspection cost us $300.00 and he took his time. Looked at everything.

Had a moisture meter. Spotted the alligatered flat rolled porch roof,( even without the Moisture meter) as did I when we stepped on it.
Told us we needed a new rolled rubber roof an the approximate cost of $500.00. He then went down and stuck and awl into the wood 1" X 10" covering the bottom of the beam. It was solid.

That being said. at the time of purchase there was no " Full disclosure " as there is now in PA. Other states may vary.
If it was in effect back when we bought the house the previous owner would have had to (by law) mention that carpenter ants were not only prevalent in this area but had earten the 2 side beams half-way back, and the front beam was totally ruined...eaten away by carpenter ants.

We found out within a year when the roof drppoed an inch that was the case. I cannot blame the Home inspector.

He did what he was supposed to do. The previous owner jacked up the front porch and put solid 1"-10" boards under the rotted beams to hide the Rot. The most important thing to remember as a 1rst time buyer is to look at everything. If something has is covered..open it..boxes all over " because of the Move" Have the owner move the boxes out of the way. Lots of boxes hide lots of problems. If the owner has rugs over hardwood floors..lift up the rugs and look for yourself. If he has wall to wall carpeting unloosen a corner and pull that up. It will go back as easily as it came up. If he says no. That's a red flag.

My home inspector found many things the previous owner hid and he had to fix them. Not everybody is honest when they are trying to sell there home. If you buy an older home..expect to do regular maintenanceon some things you expect and have money for the unexpected as well.

One last thing...If it sounds to cheap to do the job it probably IS. You get what you pay for. By the way.. We had a roofer come and rebuild the entire roof beams and we replaced the rotted wooden columns with "Chadsfords Polystone" columns. The price was $2,800.00 ( a lot of money to us )...It leaked in 18 places the first couple of rains. Needless to say we took him to small claims court after getting an estimate for what it would cost to redo what he had done and redo it correctly. Over $6,000.00.
He never showed in court We won and he ran. We haven't collected a cent yet.
Now we have a reliable roofer..Skilled in all aspects of roofing from copper work to slate roofs to regular 3-ply shingles and cedar shakes. He costs more but the job is done right. I rebuilt the structure of my also rotted structural garage including 9 joists inside and the finished wood. My new roofer put a 3 ply asphalt hot pour roof.

You learn a lot by being burned but as far as the HI goes.... he did what he could. That's why an estimate is just that..an estimated based on what can be seen. Not what's under it. Unless of course the HI has X-ray eyes. Sorry the original OP is going thru this, and having it done....and paying for it. People are very litigous these days. It stinks for those that are not. like the original O.P.-- MM. ( Disclaimer ) This was not any endorsement for Chadsworth's Columns.It's just what I found to work for me. Wink Big Grin
 
Posts: 20 | Location: Lansdowne,Pa 19050-1811 | Registered: 23 December 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Very well put mapelmean22
As a home inspector there are a few other things to know.
In the NJ area we are licenced. And their are guidelines in which we must follow when doing an inspection. A few other tidbits is that the buyer of the home has the right to say who is present during the inspection process. They can control if the seller, sellers agent, and even if their agent is present or not. I have had many issues with sellers and their agents getting mad because they could not follow us around. Be sure if your state has these laws understand them and use them to your advantange.

also expect to take at least three hours plus for the inspection. unless its a condo or small town house. I did a home once that took 12 hours. It was quite large to say the least, but had many heating and cooling systems. Two septic systems, lots of baths and three kitchens!

If you pick your own inspector. Which is what you should be doing. And if that inspector is not on the list of the offices "approved" inspectors watch your agent. They start looking at their watch after about one or two hours and begin to get restless. After about two and one half hours they start asking how much longer as they now have another appointment to be at. I simply tell them get someone else to stay at home as I do not know how much longer its going to take. And quite frankly I do not. You never know how long it will take as you never know what you will find around the corner of the next room.

A good realestate lawyer is needed. One that makes a living at doing this type of work. Not one that says they do real estate closings. There is a diffrence.

As far as buyer or seller agent. Of course you want the buyers agent. But if they are from the same office. Even with one representing you. They all have the same goal. To sell the house.
Its best that you have an agent that is not assocated with the same office if at all possible. While this is not easy, be sure to check around and find out all you can about your agent. There are some very good ones that really do care and they are hard to find. Then you have the newer agents that all they care about is the cash at closing. Stay away from them if you can.
 
Posts: 1933 | Location: New Jersey | Registered: 31 January 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Doitmyselfgirl,

The biggest problem you have in pursuing ANY recourse involving the inspector is the amount of time which has passed since the inspection was performed. Anyone can have 20-20 hindsight, but the truth of the matter is that the inspection was perhaps a 3-hour snapshot of how a property has lived for any number of years. Anyone can lookk at a problem and exclaim that they believe that the condition existed for years. However, this is purely conjecture as the person wasn't present on the day of the inspection.
 
Posts: 1 | Location: P]earl River, NY | Registered: 15 November 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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It is very hard to prove that two years ago the moisture was not there and the inspector did not see it. I remember when a friend of mine had a problem like that, he found some answers about his problem on century21sweyer.com , and with a little luck he solved the problem. Try to find the house inspector and explain the problem, maybe he will come with a solution, if not, there are a lot of legal measures you can make.
 
Posts: 18 | Registered: 09 May 2011Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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My best friend encountered such a situation and it was very hard for him to prove to the judge that the inspector did not make a proper evaluation of the house. Liability is extremely difficult to prove and people should learn more about this issue before taking any measures.
 
Posts: 29 | Registered: 06 March 2013Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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