DEAR BARRY: Our real estate agent said he would find a reputable home inspector for us. We thought this would ensure that we were buying a safe and sound property. But that’s not how it turned out.

After moving in, we learned that our home has knob-and-tube wiring. When our insurance company became aware of this, they canceled our policy. We had the wiring checked by an electrician, and he said it was unsafe. So we paid to rewire the whole house.

If our home inspector had done his job, we would have known about this in time and could have negotiated with the sellers. At the time, we had no idea what knob-and-tube wiring was, and the sellers’ disclosure statement specifically stated that there was no old wiring in the house. Shouldn’t the home inspector or the sellers be liable for the rewiring costs? –Beth

DEAR BETH: The outdated wiring in this home should have been disclosed, either by the sellers or your home inspector. Whether the sellers knew that their disclosure statement was incorrect may or may not be provable, but a truly qualified home inspector would have identified this wiring. All that was needed was to inspect the attic or crawl space, and the old wiring would have been apparent.

The inspector should have informed you that knob-and-tube wiring is out of date, that it is ungrounded, that it is not adequate for current electrical demands, and that further evaluation by a licensed electrician was warranted.

Unfortunately, some home inspectors lack sufficient knowledge and experience for their profession, and unsuspecting homebuyers often pay the price for this lack of expertise.

When your agent offered to select a home inspector, he should have known which of the local inspectors are qualified and which ones are not, which ones are thorough in their inspections, and which ones tend to miss defects. The reputations of home inspectors are usually well known among local agents and brokers.

The liability in this situation is shared. The sellers gave false information in their disclosure statement, the home inspector was professionally negligent in the course of his inspection, and your agent was guilty of negligent referral. All of them should be made aware of this situation and given the opportunity to address it.

DEAR BARRY: A mechanical contractor installed a butane gas water heater on the wall of a bathroom. He knowingly failed to vent the exhaust to the outside of the building. He was paid for the job, and the homeowner nearly died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Is this a criminal act? –Lauren

DEAR LAUREN: Whether this is a criminal act rather than a civil violation is a question for an attorney. However, the situation you describe involves professional negligence of the highest magnitude. The contractor made an illegal installation that any mechanical contractor would recognize as life threatening and a clear violation of the Uniform Mechanical Code.

In all likelihood, the installation was not permitted, which in itself is an illegal act. This contractor should be reported to the local district attorney’s office and to the state agency that licenses contractors.

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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