DEAR BARRY: We just closed escrow on a home, and the day we moved in we found a flooded basement because the water heater had failed. But four weeks ago, our home inspector said the water heater would be good for many more years. Our plumber disagreed. He said the fixture was 10 years old, was rusted at the bottom, and was well past its normal lifespan. We paid our inspector $450 to let us know what was wrong with the house and then had to spend twice as much for repairs on moving day. Is our home inspector liable for this mistake? –Faith

DEAR BARRY: We just closed escrow on a home, and the day we moved in we found a flooded basement because the water heater had failed. But four weeks ago, our home inspector said the water heater would be good for many more years. Our plumber disagreed. He said the fixture was 10 years old, was rusted at the bottom, and was well past its normal lifespan. We paid our inspector $450 to let us know what was wrong with the house and then had to spend twice as much for repairs on moving day. Is our home inspector liable for this mistake? –Faith

DEAR FAITH: A home inspector who predicts that a water heater will be good for many years is clearly liable if the fixture fails soon after the inspection. Experienced home inspectors know better than to make such predictions.

Home inspectors routinely determine the age of a water heater by reading the serial number on the label. This was probably how your plumber made that determination. If your home inspector had done the same, he would not have predicted that the fixture "would be good for many years." Competent inspectors rarely comment on the longevity of a water heater, except to point out that an old one may have limited remaining life.

Aside from the age of the fixture, your home inspector should have noticed the rust at the bottom of the tank, a clear indication of age and of past leakage. Before you replaced the water heater, you should have notified your home inspector of the problem and given him the opportunity to review the damage. Some home inspection contracts require that the inspector see the defects in question, otherwise the inspector is absolved of liability. On the other hand, a written statement from the plumber who replaced the water heater will provide evidence in your favor. But first you must contact the inspector and let him know that this problem has occurred.

DEAR BARRY: I am selling my home, and everything was going smoothly until the buyer’s home inspector raised a needless issue about the deck. The inspection report says the deck and the roof above it must be attached to the house. I’ve gotten estimates from five different licensed deck contractors, and each of them said that the deck is well constructed and that attachment to the house is not required. My transaction with the buyer is now deadlocked over this issue. Do I have any recourse against the home inspector? Shouldn’t he have known that the deck is properly built? –Cathy

DEAR CATHY: There are many home inspectors with questionable qualifications, some who are marginally experienced, some who overlook significant defects, and some who cite defects that are nonexistent. It appears that one of those inspectors has inspected your home. If your transaction is deadlocked over this issue, you should insist that the inspector cite the specific building standards that were violated when your deck was built. Otherwise, he should amend his report to show that the deck is properly constructed.

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

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