Agent chose negligent home inspector

Q: Before I bought my house, my agent scheduled the home inspection, and I trusted her to choose a good inspector to protect my interests. After moving in, I found many defects that were not disclosed in the inspection report. Worst of all, the whirlpool bathtub was never tested. The first time I used it, brown smelly gook came out of the jets, and leaking connections under the tub caused ceiling damage downstairs. My insurance paid to fix the ceiling, but the plumbing repairs are on me. The home inspector's excuse is that he doesn't test whirlpool tubs, the sellers said they were unaware of the problem, and the agent's broker has advised her not to get involved, even though she hired the inspector. Am I stuck with these costs, or is someone liable for nondisclosure?

A: If your agent selected the home inspector, she should assume some responsibility for the outcome of that choice. Agents and brokers are usually familiar with the home inspectors who do business in their area, and they typically know who among those inspectors provide the most thorough and the least thorough levels of disclosure. New agents, owing to experience, can be plausibly excused for recommending less qualified inspectors, but when experienced agents choose marginal inspectors, the choice may not be accidental.

As for the sellers, there are homeowners who never use their whirlpool bathtubs and are unaware of functional defects. This may have been the case with the previous owners of your home, which is why your home inspector should have tested the system.

Competent home inspectors routinely fill and test whirlpool bathtubs to observe leaks and other problems related to installation, function and safety. If your inspector failed in this respect, the thoroughness of his entire inspection is suspect. A second inspection by a more qualified inspector is therefore recommended. Once you have a more complete disclosure of existing defects you can more effectively negotiate matters of liability with your agent, the sellers, and the home inspector.

Q: We are house shopping in a neighborhood with 75-year-old homes. So far, all of the houses we've seen have diagonal plaster cracks at the upper corners of the doors and windows. Why is this problem so common, and do you think it is serious?

A: Walls and ceilings in homes that were built before the 1950s typically consist of lathe and plaster, rather than drywall. Unlike drywall, plaster has very little flexibility. Even slight amounts of building movement can cause stress cracks in plaster walls, especially at door and window corners. Normal changes in temperature and humidity cause expansion and contraction of the soil and building components, making these cracks nearly universal.

In most cases, plaster cracks are cosmetic in nature. In some homes, however, plaster cracks can be symptomatic of structural defects, such as faulty foundations or unstable soil conditions. Therefore, be sure to hire a qualified home inspector for whichever home you decide to buy.

• 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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