Dear Barry,

As a veteran home inspector, I take exception to a recommendation in one of your columns. You advised that home inspectors urge their clients to do a permit check at the local building department if additions or alterations to the property are apparent. Why are you making a recommendation that exceeds the standard scope of a home inspection? If all the work is done in a professional manner, and if no evidence of faulty workmanship is apparent, what’s the rationale? By the same logic, an inspector should advise a client to check for permits on the original structure. Don’t you think this advice should be amended? – Larry

Dear Larry,

You have unintentionally advanced an excellent point regarding permit checks: Home buyers should definitely check for building permits on original structures, not just on additions or alterations. In fact, many home inspectors routinely recommend that buyers check with the building department to verify all permits, final inspections, and age of buildings.

Why, you ask, am I making this recommendation? Because there’s actually a small percentage of homes out there that were either built without permits or that were never signed off when construction was completed. Obviously, such cases are rare, but recommending that buyers check with the building department removes one more uncertainty and one level of disclosure liability. A permit check also helps to clarify the age of the building in cases where remodeling may have obscured evidence of actual vintage.

As a veteran inspector, you know that liability is a major business consideration. By simply recommending a permit check, you advance the cause of protecting your assets, while providing additional consumer protection for your home-buying clients.

Dear Barry,

I’ve heard that some homes have automatic safety valves that turn off the gas during an earthquake. Surprisingly, no home in my neighborhood has one. Do these valves work as they should, or do they cause problems? – Domenic

Dear Domenic,

An earthquake shutoff valve can be installed in the main gas supply line to a home or other building. It is designed to close when significant ground movement occurs, thereby terminating the flow of gas. As is common with most human inventions, these valves can have positive and negative aspects. On the up side, they can eliminate the possibility of a fire or explosion if a gas line incurs damage during a quake. Some homeowners, however, have had less than satisfactory experiences with these valves.

The primary drawback involves reactivation of the gas service. The safety valves can be turned on only by gas-company technicians, and these experts are often overworked and unavailable in the aftermath of a major earthquake, having to address major emergency situations before they can attend to residential service work. In some instances, homeowners had to wait weeks to have their gas service restored. This meant no heat, no cooking, no hot water, and therefore, no occupancy.

In a major quake, an automatic gas shutoff can save lives and property, but it can also pose significant inconvenience. In short, all silver linings have clouds. You’ll just have to weigh the pros and cons.

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

(For more information on Bob Bruss publications, visit his
Real Estate Center


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