Dear Barry,

I’m a new home inspector and recently inspected a home with a forced-air heating system. In my report, I recommended that the air ducts be cleaned as a standard maintenance procedure. After my clients bought the home, the duct cleaning company reported that the interior membrane in the main duct was damaged, exposing fiberglass insulation. The buyer believes I was negligent and invited me back for a second look. If you peer carefully through the grill, it is possible to see the pink insulation. But the interior surfaces of ducts are not within the scope of a home inspection. How would you handle this situation? –Wes

Dear Wes,

The interior surfaces of air ducts are arguably not within the scope of a home inspection. However, a home inspector should also consider whether a particular defect was visible and accessible at the time of the inspection. If it was, it is a wise business practice to take responsibility for the omission. In the long run, it is a good way to build a solid reputation for your business.

To avoid problems of this kind in the future, recommendations for standard maintenance procedures should be stated as things to be done prior to close of escrow. That way, problems found by a contractor or technician can still be negotiated between the buyers and sellers. If the person who services the equipment is called after the close, your recommendation to have done so sooner reduces your level of accountability and enables the parties in the transaction to resolve the problem in a mutually agreeable manner. This is particularly important with regard to gas-burning fixtures, where repair costs can be high and where safety violations can be life threatening.

Gas company technicians often discover defects not reported by home inspectors. Therefore, it is wise to recommend a safety evaluation of all gas fixtures prior to close. This protects you and the buyers from defect discovery after the sale of the property.

Service businesses of the kind you have entered are never easy. Just remember who you’re working for, and give them your best.

Dear Barry,

We purchased our home a few months ago, and no problems were disclosed regarding the heating and air conditioning, either by the sellers or our home inspector. When we moved in, the system was inoperative, so we called a heating contractor. The contractor said he had serviced the system for the sellers several months ago and informed them that major repairs were needed. Unfortunately, our home inspector failed to detect the problem. Who is responsible for these repairs? –Angela

Dear Angela,    

It is unfortunate that the home inspector did not discover this defect. Unless the system was fully operational at the time of the inspection, he was probably negligent in his evaluation. The sellers, however, were worse than negligent. They were in violation of laws that require full disclosure of all known defects. They should be contacted immediately by certified mail. If they are not willing to pay for repairs, you can take them to small claims court. If the contractor will state in writing that he informed the sellers of the existing problems, your position should appear favorable to a judge.

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

***

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