Q. Our home inspector missed or covered up a serious plumbing problem. He reported that the toilet was loosely attached to the floor and recommended further evaluation by a licensed plumber. But he said this did not appear to be a major problem. After moving in, we discovered that there was a major leak in the toilet drainpipe, and our plumber quoted $900 for the repair. We relied on our inspector but now believe that he was incompetent or dishonest. Maybe he took a kickback from the Realtor to help close the deal. Is that possible?
A. "Kickback" relationships of one kind or another may exist among some agents and inspectors, but such occurrences are very rare. I would hesitate to make that kind of accusation without substantial proof.
Home inspectors can make mistakes. They can fail to report defects because of professional negligence or because there were no apparent symptoms at the time of the inspection. In some cases, an inspector will discover a problem but fail to make the proper evaluation. This could be what occurred with the loose toilet in your home. If so, the problem could be faulty judgment or a lack of adequate experience on the part of the inspector.
On the other hand, he did recommend further evaluation by a licensed plumber. What matters is whether he meant this to be done before the close of escrow or after you purchased the property. If he advised a pre-purchase plumbing evaluation, the negligence may actually be your own for opting to buy the home as is and to call a plumber later.
Regardless of who is at fault, you should promptly contact your home inspector. Advise him of your concerns, and request that he meet you at the property for a reinspection of the plumbing problem and a review of the inspection report.
Q. After buying our home, we hired a chimney sweep to make sure the fireplace was safe to use. He discovered that the metal liner in the chimney was buckled due to overheating. He said it was unsafe and advised us not to use the fireplace. The repair estimate is over $3,000 because the walls have to be opened up for access to the damage. We depended upon our home inspector to discover this problem. Shouldn't he have looked inside the chimney?
A. Home inspectors can only inspect areas that are visible and accessible. If the interior of a chimney can be viewed from within the fireplace or by looking down from the top of an open chimney, then defects inside the chimney can be discovered and reported. But if disassembly or removal of hardware is necessary to enable a full evaluation, then defects in the chimney are outside the scope of the inspection. In that case, a fireplace specialist would need to conduct a more detailed inspection.
If you believe this problem should have been discovered during the home inspection, contact your inspector and ask for an on-site reinspection of the chimney.
• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.
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