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Article posted: 7/19/2013 9:48 AM

First-time buyer didn't read the inspection report

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Q. In the excitement of buying my first home, I glanced over the stacks of paperwork and never even read the home inspection report. Instead, I trusted my agent's opinion that there were no major problems. Big mistake! Now I've got a leaky roof that was clearly disclosed by my home inspector. If I'd just read the report, I could have gotten the seller to repair the leaks. Do I have any recourse?

A. Finding defects after you move in can be a hard and costly lesson, but you're not alone. The thrill of buying a first home has caused many novice buyers to rush ahead, without watching for signs and road hazards.

The numerous pages of loan documents, escrow instructions, preliminary title reports, and so on can be overwhelming to first-time buyers who obediently sign here and initial there, as instructed by their real estate agent, escrow officer, or attorney. Important decisions are thus made with unwise haste and needless risk, especially when the home inspection report is not carefully reviewed.

A home inspection is a personal event that requires slow and thoughtful deliberation. Your inspector is your personal disclosure advocate whose job is to advise you about the condition and safety of the property you intend to buy. You pay hundreds of dollars for this service, and unless you avail yourself of the disclosed information, the inspection fee might as well be flushed.

In your case, it was a mistake to rely on your agent's interpretation of the inspection report. Instead, you should have been present at the inspection to discuss the finding with your inspector and to get answers to all of your questions.

But the fault here was not entirely your own. Your other professional advocate, your agent, should have advised you to attend the inspection and should have made sure that the interpretation of the inspection report was provided by the inspector, not by the agent. Whether you have legal recourse is uncertain and is a question for an attorney.

In the meantime, you should advise your agent of your current concerns, and you should consult your inspector for a full and in-person, albeit belated, review of the report.

Q. We have lived in our condo for over 10 years, and our electric bill has always seemed unreasonably high. Recently, we learned that the address on the meter was mismarked when the building was constructed, identifying it with our next-door neighbor's unit. All these years, we've been paying the electric bills of our neighbors and the two previous owners of their condo. Is there any way that we can recoup our money?

A. This is a complicated situation that may or may not have a fair outcome. An important question is whether the power company is required to know which meter serves which living unit, or whether the company is free to rely on erroneously labeling by a third party. If the responsibility is theirs, you'll have to follow their procedures in applying for an adjustment. If they are unwilling to cooperate, you might have to get some legal advice or complain to the regulatory bureaucracy that oversees public utility companies.

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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