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Article posted: 11/16/2012 4:17 AM

Home inspector missed settlement problem

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Q. When we bought our home, our contractor was with us on the day of the home inspection. Both the home inspector and contractor inspected the attic but had different opinions. The inspector said there were no problems, but our contractor said the ceiling joists were separated more than an inch from a beam. The inspector took a second look and said this was due to old settlement and was not a problem. We should have listened to our contractor because since moving in we've noticed other evidence of building settlement. The front and back walls are leaning and the floor is sloped in one corner. If we had known all of this, we would not have bought the house. Do we have any recourse with the home inspector?

A. The home inspector apparently did not do an adequate job and should be accountable for failure to report observable defects. Separated framing in an attic is not something to dismiss as "old settlement." Instead, your inspector should have recommended further evaluation by a structural engineer.

Recourse, however, is a legal issue that varies from state to state and is largely affected by the terms of the contract you signed when you hired the inspector. These are points to review with an attorney. In the meantime, you should find out if the home inspector is insured for errors and omissions. If major repairs are needed, insurance coverage could determine whether the matter is worth pursuing.

But before you do any of these things, you should hire a structural engineer to determine the extent of the problem, whether it is a major issue or just old settlement, as reported by your inspector. Once you have an engineering report, you will know what work is needed and can obtain bids from contractors. At that point, you'll be prepared to pursue recourse.

It is also recommended that you obtain a second home inspection. But this time, try to find an inspector with many years of experience and a reputation for thoroughness. If your home inspector missed evidence of building settlement, he probably missed other issues that need to be discovered.

Q. Our buyers backed out of the purchase contract because the home inspector's repair estimates were very high. I was wondering if it is legal for a home inspector to provide such estimates. We and our agent were very angry with the inspector. Now our home is back on the market. Should we attempt to fix all the problems addressed in the inspection report before we can make a sale? What should we do now?

A. Some home inspectors provide repair estimates. Most do not. Whether the estimates in this case were accurate or inflated is the big question. The only way to know for sure is to get bids from contractors. Once you do that, you will know what is actually needed to make repairs.

At that point, you can repair some or all of the defects. Those that you do not repair can be disclosed to future buyers, along with the contractor's bids.

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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