DEAR BARRY: We have cracks on an interior wall in our basement, and they seem to be getting wider. I’ve tried to find a structural engineer who inspects houses, but the engineers I’ve called deal only in commercial properties. One of them agreed to take a look, but he was unfamiliar with the kind of cracks that we have and was unable to explain their cause. How can I find a structural engineer who can help us sort this out? –Chris
DEAR CHRIS: There are engineers who routinely evaluate structural problems with residential buildings. The challenge is to locate one of them in your area. Three leads that you can pursue are Realtors, home inspectors and architects.
Real estate agents often need the services of a structural engineer to complete the sale of a home when foundation problems are disclosed. Home inspectors often become familiar with the engineers who evaluate the conditions revealed in a home inspection report. And architects routinely rely on engineers to provide specifications for their plans.
You might even get lucky and find a home inspector who is a licensed engineer. Make some phone calls and see who turns up.
DEAR BARRY: I bought my home about two months ago. Last week I trimmed the tree limbs that had been covering a portion of the roof and was surprised to find a lot of roof damage, including missing shingles and rotted wood. Is my home inspector liable for not disclosing this? –Zach
DEAR ZACH: Your home inspector couldn’t have seen the roof damage under the tree limbs, but he should have pointed out that the roof was encumbered with vegetation and that pruning was needed to enable further inspection. Failure to include that in his inspection report could make him liable for repairs. You should notify him of the problem and ask that he reinspect the area in question.
DEAR BARRY: My daughter just purchased a home that was a short sale. She hired a home inspector who pointed out a few problems, but nothing major was disclosed. Since moving in, we have found evidence that the home is sinking. The front entry walkway, for example, has large cracks and is very uneven. If a home inspector fails to see obvious problems such as this, does the homeowner have to pay for the repairs, or is the inspector financially liable? –Louie
DEAR LOUIE: Home inspectors are liable for defects that are visible, accessible and within the defined scope of a home inspection. However, if the only evidence that concerns you is the condition of the exterior pavement, there may be no reason to assume that the building itself is affected.
The first thing you should do is to notify the inspector of your concerns and ask that he take a second look. If there are issues with the building itself, be sure to point these out. If the only symptom involves the front sidewalk, there is probably no need for concern and no liability for the inspector.