Dear Barry,

When we bought our home, the home inspector included estimated repair costs in his report. At the conclusion, he stated that the problems found were “minor in nature” and that “actual repair costs may vary widely from one contractor to another.” One of the so-called “minor” problems in the report was rotted wood at the front door threshold, estimated to cost between $500 and $700. The sellers gave us a credit to cover this repair after we moved in. But the contractor who is now making these repairs found further rot in the adjoining wall and floor, with repair costs now exceeding $3,000. Our inspector says he told us the costs could vary and that he could not see conditions within the wall or the floor. Is his position reasonable and responsible according to normal home inspection practices? –Janet

Dear Janet,

Some home inspectors include cost estimates in their reports, but most do not. When estimates are included, they are typically nothing more than “best guesses” and should not be relied upon. The primary function of a home inspector is to identify apparent defects and to recommend evaluation and repairs by qualified specialists wherever needed. In the case of rotted wood, the appropriate recommendation would be “further evaluation by a licensed pest control operator,” commonly known as termite inspectors. This what your inspector should have advised.

Pest inspectors are responsible for evaluation and repair of conditions involving wood-destroying organisms. This includes fungus damage, commonly known as dryrot. Your home inspector should have seen the rot as a red flag indicating the likelihood of further damage in adjoining, inaccessible areas. Minimizing the problem with a low-cost estimate and labeling is as “minor,” rather than recommending further evaluation was not the proper course for a qualified inspector. This also raises the question of whether there was a pest inspection as part of the purchase transaction. If so, that inspector may be liable for the lack of adequate attention to this condition.

A particular fault of your home inspector was his conclusion that all defects were “minor” in nature. Conclusions of that kind are fool-hearty for any home inspector, unless there is absolute certainty that all findings are trivial in nature. For a home inspector to draw that conclusion where rotted wood is at issue is not justifiable in most situations.

Dear Barry,

We have a mysterious leak in our kitchen ceiling, and our plumber can’t seem to figure it out. But we have a suspicion that it may be coming from the clothes dryer vent that runs between the ceiling and the upstairs floor. Does this sound plausible? –Virginia

Dear Virginia,

It is possible that moisture condensation in the dryer duct is the moisture source. However, rain intrusion at the exterior vent outlet is also a possible cause. You’ll need to keep track of when the ceiling surface is moist to see if it coincides with wet weather or with use of the dryer. It is also possible that rain leakage is occurring at the drain vent flashing on the roof. Beyond this, there is little that can be determined without having the property professionally inspected.

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

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