Dear Barry,

We sold our home a year ago and now have disclosure problems with the buyers. The issue involves a carport slab that is built over a wood-framed structure, rather than directly on the ground. The buyers’ home inspector failed to notice the space below the slab during his inspection. Now the property is being resold, and the home inspector for the new buyers has discovered the crawlspace under the slab. Unfortunately, he also found damage in the wood substructure. As a result, the people who purchased the property from us are demanding payment for repairs. We believe their home inspector should have discovered the subarea, just as the recent home inspector did. Don’t you think their inspector should have found the understructure without being coached? After all, just how much does a seller have to spell out for the buyer’s home inspector? – Rhonda

Dear Rhonda,

A home inspector’s responsibility is to discover all pertinent conditions that are visibly discernible. If the recent home inspection revealed the carport subarea and its access opening, then those aspects of the property were probably discoverable when the first home inspector was on site (unless the access was concealed by personal property). From that perspective, the first home inspector may bear some professional liability. However, this does not absolve you, the seller, from your legal obligation to provide full disclosure to buyers.

Your duty to the buyers was to disclose whatever conditions you were aware of at the time of the transaction. You may not have known about damages to the substructure, but you probably knew that a subarea existed beneath the slab. Of course, you could only be expected to mention this to the inspector if you knew he had overlooked it. You may have been totally unaware of his omission, in which case you would bear no responsibility for the lack of disclosure. However, if you were aware of his error, then the matter should have been brought to his attention.

It is not the job of home inspectors, as some mistakenly believe, to compensate for disclosures deliberately withheld by sellers or to indemnify sellers for the financial consequences of their willful silence. To envision home inspectors, as some apparently do, as undeclared underwriters, providing disclosure insurance, as it were, for misguided sellers, is a far-reaching infringement, breaching the legal boundaries that define the requirements for seller disclosure.

An honest and forthcoming posture for sellers includes a willingness to inform home inspectors of conditions that might concern a buyer or that might aid the inspector in the performance of his discovery. From that perspective, only you can say whether the current complaint arises from an unintended error or a deliberate withholding of information.

At this stage, it would be advisable for all concerned parties, including the home inspectors, to meet on the property to discuss a fair resolution. Hopefully, the structural repairs will not be too costly.

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

***

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