Dear Barry,

Our home inspector listed an electrical safety problem (damaged conduit on the outside of the house) in his report but did not include it in the “summary” portion of the report. Unfortunately, the summary is the section of the report our Realtor used to review the inspector’s findings with us. The summary included other safety defects, and the seller agreed to have these repaired. But we noticed the omitted problem after the sale and had to pay an electrician $580 to repair it. Can we ask the Realtor or the home inspector to reimburse us for this expense? – Beth

Dear Beth,

If the damaged conduit had been mentioned nowhere in the inspector’s report, that omission might constitute professional negligence. In this case, however, the defect was disclosed in the main body of the report but not repeated in the final summary. What we have, therefore, is a matter of simple human error, perhaps a clerical mistake or a computer glitch. What’s more, the fault in this case appears to be evenly shared by all parties to the transaction, the inspector, the agents, and you, because everyone failed to read the full report.

Home inspection reports should always be reviewed in their entirety. Total property disclosure cannot be adequately expressed in the form of a summary repair list. In fact, report summaries should never be used in lieu of an inspection report. Summaries are included as a convenience, not as a report substitute. It is essential that all portions of a home inspection be read and carefully considered. Many home inspectors, in fact, refuse to include report summaries for fear that a buyer or agent will use them as a primary reliance.

Dear Barry,

In my home, the water heater is installed in the third-floor attic. If it should ever leak, I shutter to think of the disastrous water damage that could result. Now that it’s six years old, how soon should I consider replacing it? – Dorothy

Dear Dorothy,

Today’s water heaters are manufactured for short life and frequent replacement. Unlike the fixtures of bygone days, capable of delivering 20 years of reliable service, modern water heaters are masterfully engineered to last five or more years. And to add some suspense to the inevitable dying scene, the “or more” period is entirely unpredictable: It can last 10 years or a single day.

In your home, the “cliff hanging” is magnified by the impractical water heater location, situated where damage to the building would be maximized in the event of an untimely leak. A drain pan with a discharge pipe to the exterior of the building could eliminate this risk, but, unfortunately, this kind of protection is not required in most localities. Thus, installations such as yours are common. But don’t be constrained by minimum code requirements. Whether or not you replace your current water heater, the installation of a pan is highly recommended.

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


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