Both home inspectors may have missed leak

Q: Before we bought our house, there were two separate home inspections. The first inspector was hired by the sellers, and the second inspector was ours. Unfortunately, neither inspector discovered the plumbing problems under the building. Two weeks after we moved in, the cable TV guy found several leaking pipes in the crawl space. Our plumber said the old steel piping was shot, so we paid to repipe the entire house with copper. The plumber also installed temporary vent fans to dry out the subarea. So now we have two questions: (1) Are the home inspectors liable for the cost of repiping our home? (2) Should we install permanent vent fans to prevent water damage and dry rot?

A: It is surprising that two home inspectors failed to notice and report the leaks and the deteriorated piping. As for liability, the home inspectors should have been notified of the problem prior to replacing the old pipes. Most home inspection contracts specify that defects discovered after the inspection should be reported to the inspector, prior to making repairs, so that the inspector can see the conditions under complaint.

Although both inspectors may have been professionally negligent, it can be argued that the leaking was not occurring during the inspections and that the pipes may not have been visibly defective. The fact that neither inspector reported moisture below the building indicates the possibility that the leakage occurred later. Unfortunately, all evidence has been removed from the scene. Therefore, the inspectors have an out as far as legal liability.

Now that the leaking has been eliminated, there should be no need for permanent vent fans under the building. Let the temporary fans run until the subarea is dry. Also, make sure the screened vent openings in the subarea walls provide cross ventilation, and that there is at least one square foot of vent opening for each 150 square feet of floor area.

Q: Our home is currently for sale, and we have some concerns regarding the structure. A contractor inspected the foundation and said it needs to be raised about half an inch. Our Realtor believes the house will not pass inspection if we don't have the foundation work done. Should we rely on our agent's recommendation, or are there other ways of addressing this problem?

A: Before proceeding with repairs, you should have the foundation inspected by a licensed structural engineer. An engineer is more qualified to make this kind of evaluation and may or may not agree with the findings of the contractor. If the engineering report is positive, you can use that document to assure buyers of structural stability. If the engineer recommends upgrades or repairs, you can obtain bids from three separate contractors. At that point, you can execute the repairs or submit the bids as part of your disclosure statement. If you follow this prescription, you can eliminated uncertainties about the foundation and fulfill your requirement for full disclosure.

• 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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