Dear Barry,

Before we bought our house, our home inspector tested the toilets and reported that they were “functional.” Unfortunately, these tests were just “water” flushes, which failed to tell the whole story. After moving in, we had immediate problems with the toilet in the master bathroom. The fixture works OK with liquids but simply does not dispose of solid waste. In fact, the first time we flushed it, the bowl overflowed you know what onto the floor. Why don’t home inspectors check for this? – Byron

Dear Byron,

As you’ve just discovered, a real-life test is the only reliable method by which to verify the operational adequacy of a toilet. This, of course, poses a practical dilemma for home inspectors who may test as many as six fixtures in the course of a typical workday. Even with the inducement of a glass or two of prune juice, no inspector is likely to possess the intestinal capacity for such a demanding regimen. And those rare individuals for whom such prodigious outputs are possible would be challenged to coordinate these productions with the unpredictable moments when each toilet would be encountered. As an alternate test material, inspectors could stock their trucks with a supply of rotten bananas, but this would pose additional logistical difficulties, including the embarrassment of explaining to buyers, sellers and agents why the toilets were suddenly clogged with chunks of tropical fruit.

In solemn recognition of these unfortunate impracticalities, home inspectors have reconciled themselves to the routinely banality of mere water flushing. Without the practical means to repeatedly simulate optimum flush conditions, they merely observe the flush action under Number One rather than Number Two conditions. They check for evidence of leakage, and they ensure that each fixture is securely attached to the floor. In nearly all cases, these inspection methods are sufficient for identification of operational defects. Unfortunately, your case was one of the rare and untidy exceptions. Fortunately, the repair process is likely to be simple and relatively inexpensive. The cause of overflow may simply be routine congestion of the drain. If plunging doesn’t clear the line, have it checked by a qualified plumber.

Dear Barry,

The home I’m selling has an asphalt driveway with thousands of cracks, some as wide as 2 inches. How should I deal with this as a seller? Should I disclose it as a safety problem? Do I have to repair the cracks? Can repairs be made without repaving the driveway? You better send me a good answer! – Avery

Dear Avery,

All property defects, including driveway cracks, should be disclosed to buyers. Whether such disclosure should be framed in the context of safety depends upon whether the cracks constitute potential trip hazards. If the cracks in your driveway are as wide as 2 inches, they certainly qualify in this regard. Consider, for example, a high-heeled pedestrian planting a spike in a deep crack and spraining an ankle.

Regarding crack repairs versus total repaving, that question demands a visual inspection, rather than a determination on the basis of a written question. However, if the cracks in your driveway truly number in the thousands, a new layer of asphalt is probably the most practical approach.

That, my friend, is the answer. You can decide whether it’s a good one.

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

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