DEAR BARRY: I bought a 10-year-old house a year ago. The home inspection was clean, but I just discovered something the home inspector missed. Water has been leaking into the garage, above the door header. Two contractors have bid $11,000 for the repairs. My home inspector took a second look and offered to pay me $2,500, as long as I sign a paper absolving him of further liability. What should I do? –Paul
DEAR PAUL: If the inspector offered to pay you $2,500, he probably recognizes that he made an error in his inspection. If the inspection contract that you signed has a limit on liability, you may have to accept the amount that he has offered. You should read the contract to see what it says about liability limitations.
There is also the possibility that the leak developed during the year since you purchased the house, but that could be difficult to prove, one way or the other. In cases of this kind, home inspectors will sometimes offer a settlement simply to avoid the cost of litigation.
If you want to pursue the matter, find out if the inspector has insurance for errors and omissions. If so, he is required to notify the insurance company about your claim. In that case, the total cost of repairs could be covered. You should also have an attorney review the inspection contract to determine the strengths and weaknesses of your case.
DEAR BARRY: We bought our home six years ago, when it was brand-new. Since then, it has settled and is cracked in many places. We notified the builders, they filed an insurance claim, and six months later they won’t answer our phone calls or emails. What can we do? –Dina
DEAR DINA: If no one is responding to your calls or emails, the builders could be stalling in the hope that the problem will somehow disappear. The insurance company may have denied the claim, leaving the builder liable for the costs of repairs. If the builders are ignoring normal methods of communication, a letter from an attorney may be needed to gain their attention.
But before spending money on representation, make one final attempt. And this time, send them a certified letter stating that legal action will be taken unless the settlement problems are addressed immediately.
Another necessary step is to have the home inspected by a licensed structural engineer. You need to know the causes and extent of the problem, as well as what will be needed to correct it. If you depend on the builders to send their own "experts," you could receive a biased opinion rather than an objective evaluation. Having an engineering report in hand will give you an important edge in your negotiations with the builders. There is also the possibility that the settlement is minor in nature. If so, that could be confirmed by your engineer.