Repair estimates by home inspector not reliable
Q: When we bought our home, the home inspection report included estimated costs to repair the reported defects. The conclusion of the report stated that all of the problems found were "minor in nature" and that "actual repair costs may vary widely from one contractor to another." One of the so-called "minor" problems in the report was rotted wood at the front door threshold, estimated to cost between $500 and $700.
The sellers gave us a credit to cover this repair after we moved in. But the contractor who is now making these repairs found further rot in the adjoining wall and floor, with repair costs now exceeding $3,000. Our inspector says he told us the costs could vary and that he could not see conditions within the wall or the floor.
Is this reasonable according to normal home inspection practices?
A: Some home inspectors include cost estimates in their reports, but most do not. When estimates are included, they are little more than "best guesses" and should not be relied upon.
The primary duties of a home inspector are to report defects that are visible and accessible and to recommend evaluation and repairs by qualified specialists. When rotted wood is discovered, the appropriate recommendation is "further evaluation by a licensed pest control operator," commonly known as pest inspectors. That is what your inspector should have advised.
Pest inspectors evaluate conditions involving wood-destroying organisms. This includes fungus damage, commonly known as dry rot. Your home inspector should have seen the rot as a red flag indicating the likelihood of further damage in adjoining, inaccessible areas. Labeling the problem as "minor," rather than recommending further evaluation was not the proper course for a qualified home inspector. Conclusions of that kind are risky, unless there is absolute certainty that reported defects are truly minor in nature.
This situation also raises the question of whether there was a pest inspection as part of the purchase transaction. If so, did the pest inspector discover the rotted wood that was noted by the home inspector, and what were the pest inspector's recommendations?
Q: We have a mysterious leak in our kitchen ceiling, and our plumber can't seem to figure it out. We think it may be coming from the clothes dryer vent that runs between the ceiling and the upstairs floor. Does that sound plausible?
A: Moisture condensation inside the dryer duct could be causing the problem. One way to test this would be to forego any laundry for about a week to allow the ceiling to dry out. Then run a few laundry loads in one day to see if the moisture reappears. If so, have a contractor open up the ceiling to see what is wrong with the vent duct and to determine how it can be effectively upgraded. A continuous PVC duct with glued joints may be a possible solution.
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