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posted: 8/26/2011 12:01 AM

Home inspector: No one disclosed leaking shower pan

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Q. After buying our home, we discovered a leak in the floor of our upstairs shower. The surprise came when water began dripping from the downstairs ceiling. Worse still, we discovered the ceiling had previously been patched. This means that the sellers must have known about the problem, a suspicion that has been confirmed by the next door neighbor. When we had our home inspection, the inspector ran water for a while but not long enough to reveal the leak. Now we're stuck with a repair cost of $1,500. The seller has moved out of state, and the home inspection report specifically disclaims shower pans. Do we have any recourse against the home inspector or the seller?

A. The sellers were apparently aware of the leaking shower pan but chose not to disclose it. On that basis, they appear to be in violation of the law and subject to legal consequences. Unfortunately, their residency in another state complicates your chances of bringing justice to bear. For clarification of the strengths or weaknesses of your position, you can seek the advice of an attorney, but a $1,500 claim probably does not warrant the investment of legal costs.

Home inspectors typically perform their work in accordance with established industry protocol, as set forth by professional associations such as the American Society of Home Inspectors. Unfortunately, these standards do not include testing of shower pans. Evaluating the watertightness of a pan is generally done by pest control operators (commonly known as termite inspectors). This is because pest control operators also inspect for fungus infection, and moisture problems at showers can promote the growth of fungus. However, pest inspectors typically omit pan tests when showers are located upstairs. The reason for this exclusion is to avoid liability for ceiling damage if the pan leaks during the test. Thus, leaking shower pans often escape detection in the course of a real estate purchase. In many cases, unwitting buyers are unfairly saddled with the costs of repair.

Q. The home we are buying is brand new, so we haven't decided whether we should hire a home inspector. If we do hire someone, are there inspectors who specialize in inspection of new homes?

A. All home inspectors inspect new-construction homes, but it is unlikely that any home inspectors limit their business exclusively to new construction.

If you are wondering if a home inspection is recommended for new homes, you have apparently not followed this column. In short, the critical importance of inspecting new construction cannot be overemphasized. It is an essential absolute for buyers of new houses.

Rather than repeating what has been explained in past articles, let me underscore this unvarying fact: All new homes have defects. It just takes a qualified, experienced home inspector to identify the glitches. Once you have the report in hand, the builder makes the appropriate corrections. This is better than having someone else's home inspector finding the defects when you eventually sell the property, years from now, after the builder's warranty has expired.

• Email questions to Barry Stone through his website, housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.

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