Dear Barry,

Is it better to find your own home inspector or to rely on the one supplied by the real estate agent? We’re looking at a 1958 home. The agent’s inspector says there’s nothing wrong with the place. His report states that “it’s structurally sound,” but we’re plagued with concerns. The electric outlets are the old two-prong type, but the inspection report made no mention of this. The washing machine in the basement is connected to the drain for the kitchen sink, and the tenant says it sometimes overflows. Shouldn’t these conditions have been red flags for the inspector? –Stephan

Dear Stephan,

The primary red flag in this story is when the home inspector says “there’s nothing wrong with the place.” The one fact on which all experienced home inspectors agree is that no home is totally free of defects. Even the most meticulously constructed brand-new home has conditions that warrant correction. With a 1958 rental, the mere suggestion that there might be “nothing wrong” is a challenge to established reality. Equally surprising is the disclosure that the house is “structurally sound.” Home inspectors, unless they are also licensed structural engineers, are not qualified to make such judgments. Without an engineering degree, an inspector may say that no evidence of foundation damage or building settlement was observed, but definitive statements regarding structural integrity may not be rendered.

As to your plumbing and electrical concerns:

If the laundry drain in the basement overflows when the kitchen sink is draining, the piping may be improperly configured. This should be reviewed by a licensed plumber.

Two-prong electrical outlets are typical in older homes. Upgrade is advisable but is not legally required. However, further review by a qualified electrician or a more thorough home inspector may be warranted.

Finally, reliance on a real estate agent’s home inspector is not necessarily a right or wrong decision. Many agents endorse only the best inspectors, while others recommend those of lesser qualifications. Your job is to do some homework; to guard your own financial interests. Rather than reject an inspector outright, simply because the recommendation was made by an agent, you should review the credentials of several home inspectors, including the one advised by your agent. Then hire the person with the most experience and the best reputation for thoroughness.

Dear Barry,

We purchased a 1960 home. Our inspector reported that the water heater in the garage was installed without a raised platform, but because the building was constructed before the platform became a code requirement, he said that repair was not mandatory. Then, after we moved in, the gas company said that a platform is required, regardless of the age of the building. Is our home inspector liable for this mistake? –Kelly

Dear Kelly,

In 1960, when your home was built, water heaters were routinely installed on garage floors, and that was legal at the time. A few years later, platforms were mandated to prevent pilot lights from igniting gasoline fumes. If the water heater in your garage is the original fixture, installed when the house was constructed, its placement on the floor could be argued as being noncomplying but legal. However, few water heaters reach the ripe age of 40-plus years. Yours is most likely a newer fixture, installed when raised platforms were required. Your home inspector’s analysis of this installation should have been based upon the age of the water heater, not the vintage of the home.

Fire hazards of this kind are often repaired at sellers’ expense, as a condition of sale. Therefore, the home inspector should assume responsibility for a faulty evaluation. My advice is to give the inspector a call and ask for a review of the situation. If he maintains his position, suggest that he consult the local building department regarding water heater safety requirements.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at


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