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Inspection Report Isn't a Repair List


Question: We hired a home inspector to make a complete repair list for the home we are buying, but it seems that we wasted our money. The inspector did a thorough job and disclosed some serious problems with the plumbing, the electric wiring and the roof. But the seller refused to fix anything. It was our understanding that sellers must repair the problems discovered by home inspectors, but our agent says that most repairs are negotiable.

This is all very disillusioning. The seller has to correct the problems in the termite report, and we see no reason why a home inspection report should be different. If a seller has no obligation to make these repairs, then what's the point of having a home inspection?

Answer: Your question voices a common misunderstanding about the purpose of a home inspection. People often view an inspection report as a mandatory repair list for the seller. The fact is, sellers are not required to produce a flawless house. They have no such obligation by law or by contract.

With a termite report, requirements are different: Real estate contracts usually obligate a seller to repair conditions classified as "section one" in the termite inspection. Section one includes instances of active infestation--termites, fungus, dry rot, etc. Other faulty conditions, such as earth-to-wood contact, generally do not require action on the part of the seller, unless infestation is found.

With a home inspection, most repairs are subject to negotiation between the parties of a sale. Typically, buyers will request that various conditions be repaired before the close of escrow, and sellers will usually acquiesce to some of these demands. But with most building defects, sellers make repairs as a matter of choice, not obligation, to foster good will or to facilitate consummation of the sale. There are, of course, those few rigid sellers who will flatly refuse to fix anything, even at the risk of losing the sale. Fortunately, this response is the exception rather than the rule.

Sellers maintain the legal right to refuse repair demands, except where requirements are set forth by state law, local ordinance or the real estate purchase contract. Legal obligations include earthquake straps for water heaters and smoke detectors in specified locations. Contracts usually stipulate that fixtures be in working condition at the close of escrow, that windows not be broken and that there be no existing leaks in the roof or plumbing.

Before you make any demands of the seller, try to evaluate the inspection report with an eye toward problems of greatest significance. Look for conditions that compromise health and safety or involve active leakage. Most sellers will address problems affecting sensitive areas such as the roof, fireplace, gas-burning fixtures or electrical wiring.

Routine maintenance items warrant a lesser degree of concern and should not be pressed upon the seller. If the house is not brand-new, it is unreasonable to boldly insist upon correction of all defects. Such demands can alienate the seller and kill the sale. Your willingness to accept minor problems may persuade a seller to correct conditions of greater substance.

The purpose of a home inspection is not to corner the seller with a repair list. The primary objective is to know what you are buying before you buy it. All homes have defects; it's not possible to acquire one that is perfect. What you want is a working knowledge of significant defects before you close escrow. As the old sea captain once told me, "It doesn't matter if your boat has a leak, as long as you know it's leaking."

Subfloor Area Benefits From Vapor Barrier

Q: The house I'm buying was just checked by a home inspector. He recommended a vapor barrier for the ground surface beneath the building because there are no vent openings. What exactly is a vapor barrier? Is it required by code?

A: A vapor barrier is a plastic membrane spread over the entire ground surface beneath a building. Its purpose is to prevent moisture condensation on the floor framing by isolating ground water from contact with the air.

According to the building code, a vapor barrier is actually a secondary means of reducing humidity in the subfloor area. The primary method is to install screened vent openings at the perimeter foundation, to dissipate moisture by means of cross ventilation. In cases where the layout of a building or the method of construction precludes adequate venting, a vapor barrier is specified in the code as an alternate solution.

When sub-area moisture condenses on the wood framing, the result can be excessive structural damage due to fungus and dry rot. If your foundation area is not adequately vented, a vapor barrier may be the best solution.

Valve Requirement Is Often Ignored

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