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Structural Repairs Can Lurk Behind Cosmetic Concerns


Question: What's the point of a home inspector's disclosing cosmetic defects? I just had a "structural inspection," and the report recommended repainting a stain on the ceiling. This stain is not a structural problem, but it has started a chain of requests from the buyer to correct cosmetic defects.

Our contract does not spell out the difference between cosmetic repairs and structural repairs. So now the buyer is using the inspection report as a shopping list. What should I do?

Answer: Cosmetic defects, such as ceiling stains, should not become the focus of a home inspection report, and the repair of stains is certainly not incumbent upon a seller. But stains on a ceiling are indicative of past or current leakage, either at the roof or in the plumbing system. Further evaluation of such conditions is often warranted.

If an inspection takes place during dry weather, it is not always possible to determine whether rain leakage will occur, but specific review of roof surfaces above ceiling stains is a critical part of a detailed inspection.

Another item that needs clarification is your repeated reference to a home inspection as a "structural" inspection. In a strict sense, the word "structural" is limited in scope, referring primarily to issues involving foundations, framing and ground stability.

A home inspection, however, encompasses far more issues than these, including but not limited to the plumbing, heating and electrical systems, fireplaces and chimneys, roofing, built-in appliances, ground drainage, general safety compliance and much more.

In essence, the purpose of an inspection is to identify significant property defects that are visually discernible. Cosmetic defects are typically included as a courtesy only. But to limit the scope of a home inspection to purely structural considerations is to drastically reduce the accepted standards of practice for a physical inspection.

Seek Explanations for Questions in Report

Q: We hired a home inspector to look at the house we are buying, but now we're confused about some of his findings. What exactly does he mean when he states that the shingle roof needs a tuneup? Also, he reported that doors and gates are not within the code and regulations. Are we being unreasonable to ask the seller to have these fixed prior to closing of escrow?

A: When a roof needs a tuneup, it means there are defects needing attention but that conditions are not serious enough to warrant roof replacement. Rather, a roofing contractor is needed to perform routine repairs.

It would have been better if the inspector had stated precisely what defects he observed, such as: "Some cracked shingles were noted," or "Some shingles are missing," or "Aggregate is worn on some areas of the roof." My advice is to call your inspector to find out exactly what was meant.

As to the disclosures about doors and gates, it is unusual for a home inspector to refer to codes and regulations in a written report. The purpose of a home inspection is to report significant defects, not violations of code. Again, call your inspector to find out exactly what was meant.

Additionally, I'm wondering if you attended the inspection and received an oral review of these findings by the inspector. Maximum benefit is obtained from an inspection when the buyer attends. Neglecting to do so can be a big mistake. Far more can be learned when the inspector explains the report than when you interpret the disclosures on your own.

If you have questions or comments, contact Barry Stone through his Web site at

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