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ASK THE INSPECTOR

When the roof isn't checked, the buyer risks taking a fall

July 29, 2007|Barry Stone | Access Media Group

Question: I have two complaints against home inspectors. The last two I hired inspected the roofs from the ground only, and neither reported any defects. I also have found that home inspectors won't admit to errors made during their inspections. When problems are discovered after the purchase, they often dismiss them as normal conditions. For example, when I found that my main water shut-off valve was leaking, I called my inspector, and he said that was normal. How would you rate his performance?

Answer: Some home inspectors are definitely more professional than others, and your inspectors apparently have been on the lower end of that spectrum. All home inspectors miss things. That's the human aspect of doing business. But when errors and omissions are discovered, inspectors should respond in a forthright manner rather than make excuses. That is the honest and acceptable standard in any business.

Inspecting a roof from the ground is little better than not inspecting it at all. Walking the roof, or at least inspecting it from atop a ladder, is essential to performing an adequate evaluation. The only acceptable excuse for not walking on a roof is inaccessibility due to steepness, height, roof type or weather conditions.

When a roof-walk is not possible or is deemed unsafe -- when it might cause damage to the roofing material or to the inspector -- a ladder provides the second-best perspective. By placing it against the eaves at various positions around the building, most roof surfaces can be viewed to a reasonable degree.

If eaves are too high to accommodate a ladder, high-powered binoculars provide the only means of adequate roof inspection from the ground.

Common roof defects can go unnoticed when viewed from the ground. Examples include weathered and worn shingles, cracked tiles, displaced tiles and shingles, rusted flashing and clogged gutters. This is a matter of common knowledge among home inspectors.

Inspectors who compromise the quality of their work should state in their reports that the roof inspection was limited in scope and that further evaluation of roofing conditions is recommended before the property is purchased.

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Agent advised against radon test

Question: When I bought my home, the home inspector recommended that I have a radon test for an additional $100. My agent, who also attended the inspection, said that there had not been any high radon levels in the area and that the additional fee was a waste of money. So I didn't get a radon test. After closing escrow, I bought a radon test kit at the hardware store and discovered that the radon in my home is three times the level recommended by the EPA. Is my agent liable for his misleading advice?

Answer: Prudent real estate agents know better than to advise clients on matters that exceed their professional expertise. Unfortunately, there are times when agents cross this critical line. Some advise against engineering and soil reports, against a research of building permits or even against having a home inspection. Those who give such advice misrepresent the interests of their clients and expose themselves to serious levels of liability. For an agent to discourage the specific aspects of the discovery process is not only risky, it is also unethical.

Radon is a radioactive gas emitted from the soil that may become concentrated in a home. It is often a localized occurrence, rather than being typical of an entire neighborhood. In some cases, radon can reach high levels in one house while being negligible at the home next door. This fact is not likely to be known by many real estate agents, which is why agents should withhold uninformed advice.

From an ethics standpoint, your agent bears some liability. Legally, oral recommendations are difficult to prove, although you could test the matter in Small Claims Court. If you do this, the amount in question would be the cost of installing a radon mitigation system, usually between $1,000 and $2,500.

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Questions can be sent to questions@housedetective.com.

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