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Home Improvement | ASK THE INSPECTOR

Thoroughness Protects the Home Buyer

September 13, 1998|BARRY STONE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

QUESTION: I nearly sold my home last month, but the deal fell through because of a picky home inspector. I can understand making sure that everything is built to code. But the home inspector seemed to make a big deal out of every little thing, which may or may not be the buyer's business. I mean, what does it matter if the roof is worn, as long as it doesn't leak? And so what if the water heater is 18 years old, if it works just fine? I think you guys go out of your way to impress people with how much you know.

ANSWER: I wonder if you'd feel the same way if the home inspector were hired by you to inspect the home you are soon likely to buy.

As a seller, you need to realize that the character of the real estate market place has undergone radical changes in recent years. The old "buyer beware" principle is no longer acceptable. In today's litigious business environment, it is a seller's responsibility to disclose. The more you disclose, the less likely you are to incur legal conflict after the close of escrow.

Whatever conditions you choose to withhold, regardless of your rationale for withholding, become potential courtroom conflicts.

Limiting the disclosure process to mere building code compliance can be an expensive mistake. Code requirements are designed to ensure that a house is safe and stable at the time of construction.

But codes do not address the deterioration and wear that occur as a building becomes older, nor do they prevent substandard repairs from being performed by unqualified people after a home has been built.

Your roof may not leak at the time of sale, but what if it does leak six months later? Who will pay to fix it? As to your 18-year-old water heater: How long can you expect the old faithful fixture to continue working? If it breaks down shortly after the sale, who is expected to pay for a new one?

If leakage from the water heater causes damage to the building, who will be liable? If faulty combustion or a congested pressure relief valve should result in personal injury or worse, who will pick up the tab?

There are numerous other conditions that a buyer is entitled to know when purchasing a home. As a seller, you may again become a home buyer yourself. That's when you'll want to know which components are safe and operational and which are likely to fail in the near future. From that perspective, the thoroughness of the home inspector may be viewed in a different light.

Electrician May Be Few Watts Short of a Bulb

Q: Before purchasing my home, I hired a professional home inspector. He reported that one circuit in the main electric panel was over-fused and therefore unsafe and illegal.

The seller of the home consulted an electrician who said the circuit complied with the electric code when the house was built about 15 years ago. According to the home inspector, the circuit consists of No. 10-gauge Romex, connected to a pair of 40-amp circuit breakers. These numbers don't mean a thing to me, so I don't know whom to believe, the inspector or the electrician. Can you tell me who is right?

A: The seller's electrician may possibly have some loose wires of his own. The National Electric Code requires the circuit breaker on No. 10-gauge copper Romex to be no more than 30 amps, and this requirement is much older than 15 years.

According to the details in your letter, the inspector was correct to call the circuit "over-fused." Exceptions to this rule are sometimes allowed if the circuit provides power to an electric motor, because some motors draw enough power during start-up to prematurely trip a circuit breaker.

In most cases, however, an over-fused circuit is regarded as a fire hazard. In the event of an overload, the wires could become hot before the breakers would disconnect. My advice is to consult another electrician.

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Got a question about any aspect of the home inspection? Send it to Barry Stone, Los Angeles Times, 540 Atascadero Road, Morro Bay, CA 93442. Queries can also be sent via e-mail to: inspector@fix.net.

All questions will be considered for use in "Ask the Inspector" but cannot be answered individually.

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