Buyer questions honesty of home inspector

Q: The house we just bought has problems that were missed or minimized by our home inspector. The main one involves the toilet, which he reported as "loosely attached to the floor." He said this was not a major problem but that it should be checked. We bought the house as is but have now learned that there's a major leak in the toilet drainpipe. The plumber quoted $900 for the repair. We relied on our inspector, but we now believe he was incompetent or dishonest. Maybe he took a kickback from the Realtor to help close the deal. Is this possible?

A: Although "payback" relationships of one kind or another may exist among some agents and inspectors, such occurrences are very rare. I would hesitate to make that kind of assumption.

Sometimes defects literally escape the attention of a home inspector. This may be due to professional negligence or a lack of apparent symptoms at the time of the inspection. At other times, an inspector may discover a problem but fail to make the proper evaluation, as apparently occurred with your loose toilet. This may be due to faulty judgment or a lack of adequate experience on the part of the inspector.

On the other hand, you say the inspector advised having the toilet checked. What's important here is whether he meant checking it prior to purchasing the property. If he recommended pre-purchase evaluation by a licensed plumber, the negligence in this case may actually be your own for opting to buy the home as is.

Regardless of who is at fault, you should promptly contact your home inspector. Advise him of your concerns and request that he meet you at the property for a reinspection of the plumbing problem and a review of the inspection report.

Q: After purchasing our home, we hired a chimney sweep as a precaution before using our fireplace. He looked up the chimney and found that the metal liner was buckled due to overheating. He said this was a safety hazard and advised us not to use the fireplace until repairs are made. This will involve cutting into the walls, and the estimated costs could be as much as $3,000. We depended upon our home inspector to discover such problems. Aren't home inspectors required to inspect the inside of a chimney?

A: Home inspectors routinely inspect visible and accessible portions of chimneys. For example, if a chimney liner can be directly viewed from within the fireplace or if the chimney top is open and readily accessible from the roof, those interior aspects would be subject to evaluation by a home inspector. In some cases, however, disassembly of fireplace components is necessary to reveal defects, which is why some problems that are not revealed by home inspectors are later discovered by chimney sweeps. This would be a critical consideration in your situation. If the warped chimney liner could be viewed without dismantling any portion of the fireplace or chimney assembly, then the faulty condition you describe probably should have been discovered by your home inspector. In either case, you should notify your inspector of the problem and request a reinspection of the chimney to get his opinion of the current situation.

• 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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