DEAR BARRY: When we bought our home, we noticed that the exterior paint looked worn and that the knots in the wood siding were showing through. We pointed this out to our home inspector and asked for his opinion. But our agent interrupted and said, "You just need to cover them with shellac." The inspector made no further comment and said nothing about the paint in his report.

Sixteen months later, the paint was peeling off of two sides of the building. We had to sand, scrape, prime and repaint the entire exterior. What is your opinion about the inspector’s liability? –Linda

DEAR LINDA: The prime directive in home inspection is to report all defects that are visible, accessible and within the scope of the inspection. If a buyer points out a specific defect and asks the inspector for an opinion, there is no excuse for omitting that disclosure from the report.

An appropriate disclosure, in this case, would have been, "Exterior paint finish appears worn, and discoloration is apparent at the knots in the wood siding. Further evaluation by a licensed painting contractor is recommended."

Your agent’s comment was particularly foolish. Excusing a defective condition by proposing an easy fix is an invitation to major liability. Unless that agent is a licensed painting contractor, that kind of advice is outside of the agent’s professional expertise. It’s the kind of remark one would expect from a proverbial "used car salesman," not wanting to kick too firmly against the tires.

If the agent had withheld this comment, the home inspector would probably have offered an opinion of his own, verbally as well as in the report. What those comments and disclosures might have been, we will never know.

In the final analysis, the home inspector can be regarded as negligent, while the agent can be viewed as "slick." You tell me which is worse.

DEAR BARRY: The water heater for our master bathroom is an electric fixture, installed in the rear corner of the closet. It is about 10 years old, and a friend told me that it should have a drain pan in case of leakage. The problem is, the house has concrete slab floors, and the closet is not located at an exterior wall. So there’s no way to run a pipe from the pan to the outside. What do you recommend? –Jack

DEAR JACK: The water heater has already lived beyond its normal expected life. As it becomes older, it will eventually leak. When that day comes, an overflow pan with a discharge pipe to the exterior could prevent major damage in your home. Repairs could include replacement of floor coverings, drywall, baseboards, door casings and wood-based furniture, not to mention mold remediation.

A drain pan with a discharge pipe to the exterior is essential if the water heater remains in its present location. If there is no way to install a pipe from the pan to the exterior, you should hire a plumber to move the fixture to a more practical location.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at


What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.

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