Summary report put buyer in bad position

Q: Our home inspector listed a major electrical safety problem in his report, but he failed to mention it in the report summary. Unfortunately, the summary was the only part of the report our agent used to review the inspector's findings. The summary contained every single item in the main report except that one particular defect. As a result, the problem was not repaired prior to closing the sale. Was the inspector negligent for not including that item in the report summary? In short, how should we deal with this situation?

A: It is hard to assign exclusive blame in this case, since everyone seems to have been nominally negligent: the inspector, the agent and you. If the electrical problem in question had been totally omitted from the inspection report, the question of home inspector negligence would have been clearly warranted. However, there appears to have been a technical reporting error, rather than a lack of adequate disclosure. Discrepancies of this kind indicate that there was a clerical mistake or a computer glitch took place in the inspector's office when the report was compiled and printed.

Home inspectors generally advise against the use of a report summary in lieu of the full inspection report. It is essential that all portions of the report be read and carefully considered, rather than limiting disclosure to summary highlights only. Some inspectors provide summaries as a convenience only, not as a report substitute, and warnings in their reports generally warn against using the summary only. Many home inspectors, in fact, choose not to include report summaries at all, for fear that a buyer or agent will rely on that abridged document as a substitute for the full report. In this case, that is precisely what happened, and the unfortunate consequences are now being felt.

As for liability, that is a matter to be negotiated between the parties involved. As a matter of professional courtesy, the inspector and agent might agree to share the repair costs.

Q: I just purchased a fixer-upper and plan to convert the laundry room to a full bathroom. My plan is to have all the work done to code by a qualified contractor, and if possible, I'd like to avoid the intrusive complications of a building permit. Is a building permit required for this work, or can I forego a permit if the work is done by a licensed contractor? Also, if I proceed without a permit, will this create a problem when I eventually sell the home?

A: Permits are required for all construction, remodeling, and alterations where plumbing or electrical work is involved. For many people, avoiding the difficulties posed by regulatory agencies is a temptation. However, maintaining full compliance with applicable building and safety standards has its advantages. Even the best contractors can make mistakes, and the inspection process helps to ensure that some of these discrepancies are found and corrected. The lack of permits, as you suggested, can pose disclosure problems when you eventually sell the home. Better to endure some inconvenience now and avoid possible legal problems later.

• 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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