Q. Our home inspector listed a damaged electrical conduit as a safety problem in his report but did not include it in the "summary" portion of the report. Unfortunately, our Realtor used the summary section of the report to review the inspector's findings with us. The summary included all of the other safety defects, and the seller agreed to have these repaired. We didn't notice the omitted problem until after the sale and had to pay an electrician $580 to repair it. Can we ask the Realtor or the home inspector to reimburse us for this expense?
A. Home inspection reports should always be reviewed in their entirety, and your Realtor should have known this. In fact, your Realtor should have arranged for you to attend the inspection or to meet with the home inspector for a full review of findings.
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Full disclosure of property defects cannot be adequately expressed in the form of a summary repair list. In fact, report summaries should never be used in lieu of an inspection report. Summaries are included as a convenience, not as a report substitute. It is essential that all portions of an inspection report be carefully read and fully considered. Many home inspectors, in fact, refuse to include report summaries for fear that a buyer or agent will use them as a primary reliance.
If the damaged conduit had been mentioned nowhere in the inspector's report, that omission might constitute professional negligence. In this case, the defect was disclosed in the main body of the report but not repeated in the final summary. What we have, therefore, is a matter of simple human error, perhaps a clerical mistake or a computer glitch. What's more, the fault in this case appears to be evenly shared by all parties to the transaction: the inspector, the agents, and you, because everyone failed to review the full report.
Q. In my home, the water heater is installed in the third-floor attic. If it should ever leak, I shudder to think of the disastrous water damage that could result. Now that it's six years old, how soon should I consider replacing it?
A. Today's water heaters are manufactured for short life and frequent replacement. Unlike the fixtures of bygone days, capable of delivering 20 years of reliable service, modern water heaters are masterfully engineered to last five or more years. And to add more suspense to this inevitable dying scene, the "or more" period is entirely unpredictable: It can last 10 years or a single day beyond the five-year point.
In your home, the "cliff hanging" is magnified by the impractical water heater location, situated where damage to the building would be maximized in the event of an untimely leak. A drain pan with a discharge pipe to the exterior of the building could eliminate this risk, but, unfortunately, this kind of protection is not required in most localities. Thus, installations such as yours are common. But don't be constrained by minimum code requirements. Whether or not you replace your current water heater, the installation of a pan is highly recommended.
• 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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