DEAR BARRY: Six months ago, we purchased our first home. The house passed inspection, but within weeks of moving in we discovered asbestos in the basement, some of which needed removal to replace a failing furnace. After this, we noticed that rain was getting behind the roof gutters and wetting the ceilings, walls and basement. Three contractors have told us that the siding, gutters and some shingles were installed to conceal problems and sell the house.

Why are home inspectors unable to find such problems? And when they don’t find them, do we have legal recourse? What’s the point of having a $300 inspection if the inspector overlooks serious problems? Had we known in time, we would not have purchased this home. –Kurt

DEAR KURT: One thing that is often overlooked about home inspectors is their relative inequality with regard to knowledge, experience and forensic skills. The purpose of a home inspector is to discover and report defects. The ability to do this effectively involves skills that take many years to develop and refine. Some inspectors are far better at this than others. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize this when they hire a home inspector, and spend little, if any, time selecting one. In most cases, people hire the inspector who is recommended by their agent. Those recommendations are sometimes good ones, but sometimes they are not.

Another problem is price shopping. Some homebuyers simply call a list of inspectors to see who charges the least. No consideration is given for possible quality differences, just price variations. Instead of asking for a price quote, buyers should inquire about experience and qualifications. Questions such as "How long have you been a home inspector?" and "How many homes have you inspected?" are far more important than "How much do you charge?" In fact, the home inspector with the highest price may cost the least in the long run.

If your home inspector missed serious defects that were visible at the time of the inspection, you probably did not hire the best inspector available in your area. A home inspection can be a highly beneficial experience or a low disappointment. It all depends on which inspector you hire. Whether you have recourse against the inspector depends on whether the defects were visible during the inspection.

Here’s a tip for next time. Real estate agents know who the best home inspectors are. Some recommend the best inspectors, but others will not risk the deal on a thorough inspection. So take the time to check out home inspectors. Find one who is highly experienced and who has a reputation for thoroughness.

DEAR BARRY: How many layers of asphalt roofing shingles are OK before it becomes an illegal amount? –Twyla

DEAR TWYLA: The building code allows no more than three layers of composition roofing material. However, some building departments set the limit at two layers. Therefore, check with your local building official to see what is required.

On the other hand, the best way to replace a roof is to remove the old roofing first. This limits the amount of weight on the framing structure and ensures more secure nailing of the shingles.

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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