Dear Barry,

We’re buying a new home and are on a very tight budget, so we’ve decided to do our own home inspection. We’ve already gotten some pointers from friends and would like some professional advice as well. Please let us know what important things we should look for when inspecting our new home. –Kari

Dear Kari,

Asking a home inspector to advise you in the conduct of your own inspection is as ill-conceived as asking your family doctor to instruct you in the performance of your own physical examination. In either case, the number of maladies to be considered exceeds all levels of anticipation, and the knowledge required to discover and evaluate this wellspring of possible defects requires years of full-time exposure.

Consider but a few examples: Acting as your own home inspector, you must open the electric service panel and determine whether there are any wiring violations. You must walk the roof surfaces to determine the condition of the roofing material, the flashing and drains, noting defective conditions and faulty methods of installation. You must evaluate the plumbing fixtures, water lines, drain lines and gas piping to determine their operational condition and their compliance with accepted building standards. You must review the heating system to determine its functional condition and identify any of a long list of potential safety problems. You must crawl under the building and through the attic, searching for and recognizing a vast number of potential construction defects. A complete list of likely problems could easily fill a book.

The home you are buying contains an unknown number of hidden defects. If you want to discover them prior to purchasing the property, you should hire a qualified professional home inspector. It’s the only way to know what you are buying before you buy it.

Dear Barry,

I’m having a problem with an unreasonable neighbor. We share a 300-foot property line that runs adjacent to his driveway. He complains that my tree branches hang over his property and endanger his vehicles. But here’s the crazy part: Instead of using his garage, he parks his cars under the branches that appear most likely to fall. I recently hired a tree service to cut the branches where he was parking. That cost me nearly $800. But then, he began to park under other branches, and now he’s complaining about those. I can’t afford to cut all the branches, but I’m worried about liability if one should fall on his cars. What should I do? –Steve

Dear Steve,

Most people do their best to avoid trouble. Others prefer to manufacture it. Your neighbor is apparently among this latter group, preferring contention to coexistence; imagining that he can play innocent if a branch happens to fall on one of his cars. What he has not considered is his own active contribution to such an event. By willfully exposing his vehicles to an acknowledged risk, he makes himself an accessory to consequential damages.

What you need is some old fashioned legal advice. The cost of a one-hour consultation with an attorney would help you gain some perspective. First determine the strengths and weaknesses of your position; then you can choose how to approach your neighbor’s foolishness.

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


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