Dear Barry,

Before we bought our home, our home inspector found rotted floor framing under the house. But the sellers refused to pay for repairs. Our contractor estimated $4,000 to do the work. This seemed acceptable, so we bought the house. After moving in, the repair work was begun. But when the contractor removed some siding, he discovered two adjacent foundation walls, one original and one added. Wet soil between these two walls had caused major framing damage that had not been visible until then. Now the repair bid is $24,000. We called the sellers, but they denied any knowledge or responsibility for this mess. If we had known about this, we wouldn’t have bought the house. What can we do? –Alice

Dear Alice,

Your situation fits an all-too-common pattern: A major building defect is undisclosed because the sellers, for one reason or another, were unaware of it. If the home inspector had found the problem, the purchase contract could have been renegotiated, with the sellers either addressing the problem and reducing the price or the buyers canceling the purchase. Instead, because of untimely discovery, the buyers are saddled with staggering repair costs. Is this fair? Obviously not. These were pre-existing conditions, a fact that is not minimized by late discovery. The sellers owned those problems and sold them to someone else, regardless of whether they had prior knowledge.

Unfortunately, many sellers are inclined to take advantage of such situations, sidestepping their ethical responsibility on the basis of a transactional technicality. If you’re extremely lucky, the sellers may be fair-minded and agree to pay for the foundation and framing repairs. If you’re moderately lucky, they may agree to split the costs 50/50. Otherwise, you may have to use legal means to obtain a fair resolution, and that course of action does not ways lead to justice or equity.

Dear Barry,

I have been a home inspector for about three years and take the profession very seriously. I belong to a recognized national association, am fully insured, and participate in continuing education. I try to be very thorough in my inspections, spending about an hour per 1,000 square feet. Thus, inspection of a 2,500-square-foot house lasts about 2.5 hours. There is one thing I wish you would emphasize more often in your column: Don’t price shop for a home inspection. The cheapest price is not the best deal; it’s the cheapest deal. Please spread the word. –Fred

Dear Fred,

Of the two points you’ve raised, we shall agree and disagree, respectively. Warnings against price shopping for home inspectors are certainly worth repeating again and again. A defect missed by a bargain inspector can cost 100 times the amount saved at the time of the inspection. The best method of price shopping is to find the most thorough and experienced home inspector available, regardless of price.

Where we differ, however, is in the time necessary to perform a thorough inspection. If one hour per 1,000 square feet were a reliable formula, a 1,500-square-foot home could be inspected in 1.5 hours. As any experienced inspector will tell you, this is simply not sufficient time to perform a complete and comprehensive inspection. Two-and-a-half hours is the minimum inspection time for any home, with rare exceptions.

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

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