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posted: 6/29/2012 5:08 AM

Home inspector: Hold strong in dispute over contractor bids

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Q. We are in contract to purchase a house, and our home inspector found problems with the old steam heating system. A follow-up inspection by a heating contractor revealed a cracked boiler. The sellers got three estimates for the work, but the expertise of these contractors is questionable, and their bids say very little about the scope of the work. We have gotten our own estimates from contractors we trust, and their bids are significantly higher than the ones provided by the sellers. When we insisted that the work be done by one of our contractors, the sellers' agent said this was an "outlandish" request. What is your advice in this situation?

A. There is nothing outlandish about wanting to ensure that a heating system is installed by persons who are truly qualified and who will provide a safe and operational system. If the sellers and their agent find this unreasonable, they should provide evidence that their contractors are qualified and competent to install a heating system that will be safe and functional.

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Hopefully you have an agent of your own who will negotiate on your behalf, rather than giving in to the sellers' refusal. If they insist on using their own contractor, then that contractor should resubmit his bid, providing specific details of the work to be done. The contractor should also provide his license number and references of satisfied past customers. Stand strong.

Q. My daughter and son-in-law bought a house ten years ago. Recently, while remodeling their home, they found the well and holding tank hidden behind a wall, and this has caused problems with the county building inspector. How could this have been overlooked by their home inspector when they purchased the property?

A. The most likely reason for the home inspector to have missed the well is that it was concealed behind a wall. Unless there was some visible evidence, there may have been no way for the inspector to make that discovery. Unusual conditions such as this are sometimes found in a very old home, and municipal building inspectors typically regard them as "grandfathered," rather than requiring upgrade to current standards. If the inspector presses the issue, your daughter and son-in-law may need to discuss the matter with an attorney.

Q. We bought our house 7 years ago, and our home inspector said that the roof would last about 12 more years. But this year we started having leaks, and three roofing contractors have said the roof is worn out and needs replacement. Is the home inspector liable now that 7 years have passed?

A. Predicting the longevity of a roof is something that can seldom be done with accuracy. Home inspectors who try to do this are foolish or inexperienced, and they expose themselves to needless liability.

After 7 years, it would be difficult to hold your inspector legally liable for faulty disclosure, unless he stated the 12-year prediction in writing.

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

Distributed by Action Coast Publishing

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