Home inspector misses major roof problem

Q: Before I bought my house, the home inspector said the roof was worn and needed about two to four bundles of shingles. The seller said there used to be some leaking, but he assured me this had been repaired. After moving in, I noticed a hole in the roofing and called the inspector to reconsider that omission in his report. He agreed to install a metal patch and invited me onto the roof for a look. What I saw was very disturbing. The condition of the shingles was much worse than stated in the home inspection report. After this, I got repair bids from three roofing contractors. Each one stated that the roof needs replacement. Considering the huge expense of reroofing, it doesn't seem right that I should be stuck with this problem. What can I do about it now? Is the home inspector or the seller liable?

A: Evaluation of roofing is a vital consideration in the course of a home inspection, and competent home inspectors are careful to find and disclose significant defects. It is surprising, therefore, that the condition of your roofing was not reflected in the home inspection report, especially in view of the consistent opinions of three roofing contractors.

Even if the shingles had a few years of remaining serviceability, the defects noted by your home inspector should have bees accompanied by the language advising further "evaluation and repair by a licensed roofing contractor prior to close of escrow." That is the correct recommendation offered by home inspectors whenever there are observable roof defects.

Had that recommendation been made, a roofing contractor would have reviewed the shingles before you purchased the property, and the need for replacement would have been determined while negotiations with the seller were still possible.

Your home inspector, therefore, appears to bear some professional liability. As for seller liability, that would depend on whether the seller was aware of the problem and withheld disclosure.

Q: We are replacing some of the wall outlets in our home and are unsure about the connections. The wires are colored brown, blue, and green/yellow. Which ones connect to which screws?

A: The standard coloration for residential electrical wiring is black for hot, white for neutral, and green or bare copper for ground. In your case, the wiring is the type commonly found in commercial electrical systems, where multicolored wires are used to enable identification of specific circuits. To determine which of the wires in your home are hot, neutral or ground, you could check to see how they are connected in the breaker panels.

However, because you are dealing with an unconventional installation, and because you are apparently not professionally schooled in electrical matters, a review of your system by a licensed electrician is advised. This will provide a definite answer to your question, while ensuring that your wiring and your new wall outlets are safe and property installed.

• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.

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