Dear Barry,

Last year, I bought my first home. Being unfamiliar with real estate procedures, I failed to read most of the paper work. As part of this hasty oversight, I neglected to read the home inspection report. Instead, I relied on my agent, who told me there were no major problems in the report. I just signed the contract and closed the deal. But now I’m having problems with a leaky roof, and it turns out that this was reported by the home inspector. If I’d known about it in time, I’d have asked the seller to hire a roofing contractor and make repairs. But I was ignorant of the importance of a home inspection, so now I’m stuck with a major roof expense and wondering what to do. –Justin

Dear Justin,

“Ignorance is no excuse!” admonished the judge, with a stern wrap of the gavel. Unhappily, you allowed your lack of real estate experience – and perhaps the exuberance of a first-time home purchase – to obscure your need to be a cautious and prudent buyer. This is understandable, given the complexities of buying real estate but, sadly, does not relieve the resultant consequences.

In far too many real estate transactions, the voluminous pages of fine-print legalese, essential to the process, are hastily scanned and signed with a sense of wide-eyed faith. Such, too often, is the typical treatment of loan documents, escrow instructions, preliminary title reports, and so on. Agents, title officers, and/or attorneys explain the essence of this technical verbiage, and buyers reflexively sign here and initial there. This cavalier practice is unwise in most cases but inexcusable when applied to home inspection reports.

A home inspection is a very personal event: at least, it should be. Your home inspector is your disclosure advocate and financial bodyguard; there for the specific purpose of advising you with regard to the general condition and overall safety of the property you intend to buy. The service provided by a home inspector is one for which you pay hundreds of dollars, and unless you avail yourself of the disclosed information, the inspection fee might as well be flushed.

Not only should the report be explained to you, but you should be present at the inspection. All findings should be reviewed with the inspector, and all of your questions should be expressed and answered. As a first-time buyer, however, the fault was not entirely your own. Your other professional advocate, your agent, should have fully explained the importance of the inspection, should have encouraged you to attend, should have been on site for the final review, and should have discussed possible repair requests to submit to the seller. In this regard, it would seem that you were not well represented. However, since you signed off on the inspection, it is uncertain whether you have legal recourse. Only an attorney can advise you in that regard.

In the mean time, you should advise your agent of your current concerns, and you should consult your inspector for a full, albeit belated, review of the report.

Dear Barry,

My elderly parents have lived in a condo for 12 years, and their electric bill has always seemed unreasonably high. Recently, they discovered that the address on the meter had been mismarked when the building was constructed, identifying it with the nextdoor neighbor’s unit. All these years, they’ve been paying the electric bills of the three successive owners of the adjoining unit. Is there any way they can now recoup their money? –Leslie

Dear Leslie,

This is one of those unfortunate circumstances for which complete justice and resolution is probably not possible. You may be able to arrange a financial adjustment with the current owners of the other condo, depending upon the reasonableness of those people, but the likelihood of resolving the discrepancies with former owners is remote. To paraphrase a popular bumper sticker, “Adverse circumstances sometimes occur.”

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

***

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