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updated: 4/13/2012 10:21 AM

Home inspector: Agent, inspector at odds over addition

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Q. My son is buying his first home, an older house with an addition. Neither the seller nor the agent will say if the addition is permitted, but the agent assures him it was built to code. My son hired a home inspector who says the addition is not secured to the foundation. So now, my son is wondering what to do next. What do you recommend?

A. Your son is not dealing with trustworthy people, and it's good that he discovered this before closing escrow. The main issues are:

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• Sellers who do not disclose a condition that would be of concern to a buyer, such as the permit status of an addition, are unethical and may be in violation of state disclosure laws.

• Agents who declare that an addition is "built to code" are claiming to be familiar with every aspect of the construction -- foundations, framing, plumbing, electrical wiring, etc. They are also claiming to have a comprehensive knowledge of the building code, plumbing code, mechanical code, electrical code, etc.

• Agents who refuse to disclose whether an addition is permitted are ethically suspect. Instead, an agent should advise clients to get the permit history of the property from the building department.

Your son should simply find another property. This is a buyers' market, with no shortage of homes for sale. The sellers and their agent are not in a position to drive a hard bargain.

Q. We had a home inspection when we bought our house, but the inspector made no mention of structural defects. Now we are having major settlement problems. Can we sue the home inspection company?

A. Before you put on your battle gear, call the inspection company and ask the inspector to look at the problems and discuss the issues. How the inspection company responds will determine your next step.

There are two factors that determine whether you have a basis for a claim. If the defects that were missed were visible and accessible at the time of the inspection, then the inspector may be liable. However, the contract that you signed at the time of the inspection probably has limitations that reduce the inspector's liability. For example, you may be required to have an arbitrator or mediator, rather than going to court. The contract may also set a maximum dollar amount for liability. Before deciding on a course of action, have the matter reviewed by an attorney.

Q. When we leave our summer home, we turn off the gas to the water heater. Is this a good idea, or should we turn the control knob to the vacation setting?

A. The vacation setting is best. The problem with turning the water heater completely off is potential leaks. When the fixture becomes cold, the fittings shrink. When you relight the burner, everything expands, and this can adversely affect the fittings. If you turn the thermostat to the vacation setting, the pilot flame will remain lit, maintaining a slight warmth in the tank.

• 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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