DEAR BARRY: I just purchased a home and am disappointed with the home inspector I hired. The first time I used the air conditioner, water dripped from the bedroom ceiling. My contractor found a broken air conditioner pipe in the attic. Besides that, there is a switch next to the living room fireplace that turns off the outlets in the master bedroom. The seller must have turned this off before moving out, because there was no power in the bedroom when I moved in. I had to hire an electrician to figure this out. It seems that the inspector didn’t even inspect the fireplace, or he would have found the switch.
So far, I’ve paid $347 for the contractor and the electrician. Shouldn’t the home inspector pay for these repairs? –Suzanne
DEAR SUZANNE: You’ve got three separate issues: the leaking air conditioner pipe, the mystery wall switch, and the uncertain fireplace inspection. Let’s take these in order.
If the damaged portion of the air conditioner drainpipe was visible and accessible in the attic, the home inspector may be liable for the repair. Air conditioning equipment in an attic is within the scope of a home inspection. However, it is possible that the condensate pipe was covered with insulation or in some other location that was not plainly visible. You should ask your contractor if the damaged portion of the pipe was exposed.
The relationship between the living room switch and the bedroom outlets is very unusual. Most home inspectors would not have discovered it. Switches that have no apparent function are common. In most cases, they are wired to nearby outlets and can be easily verified. But sometimes they are wired to circuits that are no longer connected to fixtures.
For example, when a ceiling fan is removed the wall switch is usually left in place. If your home inspector tested the switch and observed no response, his report should have stated that the function of the switch was not determined. Then you could have questioned the seller, and that would have saved the cost of hiring an electrician.
The fact that the inspector overlooked the switch or that he failed to mention it in his report does not suggest that the fireplace was not inspected. The inspector might very well have inspected the fireplace without noticing the switch. He may have tried the switch, found that it had no apparent function and then forgotten it, or the switch might even have been concealed by personal property.
Once you discovered the air conditioning leakage and the dead outlets, you should have contacted your home inspector rather than hiring the contractor and the electrician. A reputable home inspector would have been concerned about these issues and would have come to your home to investigate them. Your inspector could have located the source of the leak and have repaired the pipe. Once the dead outlets were pointed out, he might have discovered the switch and saved the cost of an electrician. Unfortunately, he was not given the chance to respond to these issues.
Buyers should regard their home inspector as an advocate and call for support when issues arise. In every profession, there are those who avoid responsibility, but all home inspectors should be given the opportunity to stand behind their work.
To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.
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