Dear Barry,

Our home is about nine years old and has off-white carpet in most rooms. The edges of the carpets have gradually turned black, and we’re wondering if we should clean the forced-air heating ducts. I think we should, but my husband says this would be wasted money. What do you suggest? –Carrie

Dear Carrie,

Blackened carpet along the walls could indicate a significant furnace defect, not simply dirty air ducts. It is possible that combustion exhaust is venting into your home, and this could be extremely hazardous. Forget, for now, about the discolored carpet and have the furnace reviewed by a licensed HVAC contractor to ensure that there are no problems with the combustion or venting, and particularly that there are no defects in the heat exchanger. In the meantime, do not use the furnace.

Dear Barry,

The people who are buying my home hired a home inspector, and no major problems were listed in the report. But the buyers are concerned about the roof because the inspector checked it off as “poor,” even though he found no particular defects. He simply said that it was near the end of its functional life. Why would an inspector make this disclosure when the roof is still functional? –Matt

Dear Matt,

Home inspectors walk a thin line between the reporting of significant defects and the avoidance of liability and lawsuits. Some inspectors are overly cautious in this regard and tend to word their disclosures in ways that enhance liability avoidance. This is sometimes done by reporting that a functional roof may be “near the end of its functional life.”

On the other hand, a roof that is in functional condition may show sufficient signs of aging to indicate that it is truly nearing the end of its functional life. A home inspector who fails to state this in a report could be liable two or three years later, when the roof finally begins to leak.

If this disclosure has become a showstopper in the sale of your home, a second opinion by a licensed roofing contractor may be needed. However, roofing contractors face the same liability exposure as home inspectors. Therefore, you may get another “nearing the end of life” disclosure.

Dear Barry,

In your columns, you frequently advise home buyers and owners to hire the most thorough, experienced and qualified inspectors available. What are the qualifications of the most experienced home inspectors, and how can they be located? –George

Dear George,

The most qualified home inspectors are those with many years of experience and formidable reputations for thoroughness. Interestingly, good reputations among home inspectors are often couched in negative terms by the agents and brokers who should, but often do not, recommend their services. In many instances, the best inspectors are known among real estate professionals as “deal killers” or “deal breakers.” Although many agents avoid such inspectors when advising their own clients, they are more inclined to give honest recommendations when their own commissions are not at stake. Therefore, one way to determine who the most qualified inspectors are is to call several real estate offices and simply ask who the most thorough inspector is in the area. You might even go so far as to ask, “Who is known as the deal killer?”

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

***

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