I am a Realtor in a major eastern city and am constantly amazed when your column wanders into arenas not within the scope of your expertise, without any disclaimers to limit your liability. For example: Are you not aware that real estate laws are regulated by individual states? Yet you consistently answer questions about what sellers are required to disclose and what agents are required to disclose as if the requirements apply uniformly in every state. Are you an attorney? If not, you should withhold such opinions. In my state, you’re wrong about 50 percent of the time. If I were you, I’d make sure my liability insurance was paid in full. –Joan
It would be easier to address your concerns if you could provide a specific example of an offending statement in a past article and if you could specify the state where you read this column. Lacking that information, my general responses are as follows:
1. Real estate disclosure laws vary in specific details from state to state, but the underlying premise of disclosure laws is uniformly based and commonly understood nearly everywhere in the country. The spirit and intent of disclosure laws are essentially this: Sellers and real estate agents are required to disclose to buyers any adverse conditions of which they have knowledge. This is the case, not “50 percent of the time,” but nearly always. Failure to recognize this ethical standard is an invitation to courtroom drama.
2. A law degree is not needed to give common-sense solutions to everyday disclosure problems or to advise readers regarding the basic essentials of honest disclosure. When a consultation with an attorney has seemed appropriate, that has routinely been the recommendation in this column.
3. Liability insurance is necessary for disclosures made in a home-inspection report. Opinions expressed in a public forum are constitutionally insured by the First Amendment.
When we purchased our home, I specifically asked the home inspector about the condition of the chimney. He told me that it was not important. I should have seen that response as a major red flag. Today we had the chimney cleaned, and the chimney sweep discovered a loose brick lining, requiring very costly repair. Do we have any recourse against the inspector? –Julie
It is understandable that a home inspector might not recognize an obscure chimney defect. But it is beyond reason that any professional inspector would regard chimney conditions as “not important.” What could possibly be more important than a fixture intended to contain a wood fire within the confines of a combustible home?
Whether the inspector is liable for failure to disclose the chimney problem depends upon whether the defect was visible and accessible at the time of the inspection. If the loose bricks can be observed by shining a flashlight up through the damper or down from the roof, then the inspector should have disclosed it in his report and should be held liable. Beyond that, he should have regarded a chimney inspection as bearing the highest level of importance for you, his client.
To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.