Buyer wants magical repair estimate

Posted7/25/2021 6:00 AM

Q: The home we are buying has water damage, mostly cosmetic, on the walls and floors in some rooms. According to the sellers, this was caused by a faulty sump pump below the building. How much would you guess it will cost to pay for necessary repairs?

A: Requesting a cost estimate for unspecified water damage is akin to asking how much will it cost to make my car run again, how much will the doctor charge to make me well, or perhaps how long is a rope? In each case, the variables need to be quantified.


The car mechanic and the doctor need to know the nature of the ailments, and your contractor needs to know the extent of water damage in the building. It would also help to know why the property has a sump pump and whether the pump is still needed. Was the pump installed for ground drainage or sewage ejection? Is the water damage truly cosmetic, or is it more serious and extensive?

The best way to determine repair costs is to have an on-site review by a qualified licensed contractor. A full list of needed materials should be prepared, and a determination of necessary work hours should be estimated. If the sump pump involves ground water, an engineer should evaluate the status of site drainage. If the pump is intended for sewage disposal, that system should be fully reviewed by a licensed plumber.

What you need, therefore, is an accurate breakdown of costs, not an educated guess. And by the way, the length of a rope is twice the distance from one end to the center.

Q: As a home inspector, I've noticed a lack of attic access openings in some multifamily buildings, such as condominiums. Even when the attics are large enough to require an access, I find none, which prevents me from inspecting the wiring, air ducts, insulation, framing or evidence of roof leaks in those locations. Attics are required to be accessible, so why am I finding some with no way in?

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A: Attic access openings were often omitted in older multiunit dwellings. In those buildings, the attic access would be installed in one living unit only, rather than each unit having its own access. Unless you get permission to enter one of the neighboring units, you cannot inspect the attic above the subject unit, and permission is not always obtainable. When access is not possible, your only obligation as a home inspector is to disclose that you were unable to inspect the attic. However, that disclosure should include a recommendation to install an access opening in the subject unit, followed by further inspection, prior to close of escrow.

Another concern in older multiunit buildings is the lack of firewalls to separate the attic spaces of adjoining living units. This deficiency may not have been a code violation when the building was constructed, but upgrade for improved fire safety should be advised in your inspection reports.

• 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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