Dear Barry,

Our kitchen sink is plugged, and this is only one of several problems missed by our home inspector. When he checked the sink during the inspection, he ran the water for about two seconds, whereas it takes about 10 to 20 seconds for the water to back up. He also didn’t tell us that the basement lights don’t work or that the hot- and cold-water connections are backwards in the master shower. Was our home inspector negligent, and shouldn’t the sellers have disclosed these problems? – Scott

Dear Scott,

Your question typifies numerous situations communicated to me by home buyers. Disclosure disappointments range in variety from plumbing to roofing, electrical to drainage, foundations to fireplaces, from everything possible to anything imaginable. The essential concern, however, is always the same: “I relied upon the expertise of a home inspector and the honesty of a seller, but now I find undisclosed problems and don’t know what to do.” In your case, fortunately, the faulty surprises are relatively minor in nature. So let’s begin with the slow sink drain.

Home inspectors operate and inspect plumbing fixtures at sinks, tubs, showers, etc. They check for damage, deterioration, faulty installation, substandard materials and functional defects. This, of course, includes observing whether drains are reasonably operative or congested. Two seconds is obviously not enough time to determine that a drain is flowing freely. On the other hand, the inspector might argue that he ran the faucet for more than two seconds; but then, who was operating a stopwatch at the time? And who can say whether the drain congestion existed on the day of the inspection or developed in the weeks or months between the inspection and the completion of the sale. Given these uncertainties, this problem should be viewed with thanksgiving for its relatively minor nature. The inspector should also be given the opportunity to reinspect and respond to the situation. Responsible and reputable home inspectors (and hopefully yours is one of them) willingly revisit properties when undisclosed defects are discovered.

If the light fixtures in your basement are not operative, this should have been discovered during a home inspection. Make sure that the bulbs are OK and that there are no tripped breakers or blown fuses. If the lights still do not work, ask your home inspector to take another look.

With regard to the reversed hot and cold at the shower faucet, plumbing standards specify hot water on the left side and cold on the right. Most home inspectors routinely check for this, but some probably do not. Those who overlook this aspect of faucet plumbing are probably performing inspections of a less-thorough nature. (Having said that, I’ll probably receive some irate e-mail from offended inspectors. Be that as it may.) Fortunately, this condition can be simply and inexpensively repaired in most (but not all) cases. Again, ask your home inspector to take a look.

Regarding seller disclosure: The sellers, in their written disclosure statement, should have listed all of the conditions noted. These documents, however, are typically incomplete. One reason for disclosure omissions is that people grow accustomed to the imperfections in their own homes; they cease to think of them as problems. When asked to list all known defects, a slow drain or a reversed shower faucet simply doesn’t come to mind. This, however, does not absolve sellers from the legal responsibility to divulge such conditions to buyers. Therefore, the sellers, as well as the home inspector, should be notified when you discover significant defects after purchasing a home.

Finally, keep in mind that all homes have minor defects that become apparent after taking possession. Many such conditions are of a kind that does not warrant serous concern or interaction with others. Sometimes, it’s best to simply plunge a clogged drain and get on with the real business of life. Where more costly repairs may be warranted, such as nonfunctional light fixtures, communication with the inspector, the sellers and your agent or broker would be a reasonable approach.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.

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