Home Inspection

A web log for homeowners, prospective homeowners and home sellers in the subject of Home Inspections, presented by I. G. "Zack" Lilienfeld, PE, Licensed New Jersey Home Inspector and Consulting Engineer


"Your Home Inspector Should Have Caught That!"

Home inspectors, like most humans, are not perfect. So, sooner or later a home inspector will get a call from a past client that they found something in their new home that was not in the inspection report. More often than not, the issue was likely something that was hidden to the inspector by the former owner's bookcase or carpet, and was revealed when the object was eventually moved, or a problem that developed after the inspection, like a water leak after a heavy rainstorm. In all cases, whether the inspector missed something or the item was undetectable to the inspector, the inspector should be consulted before the repair if possible, to give him/her an opportunity to see what's up.

Recently, I received a two phone calls where my clients explained that there was repair work required by them due to a defect, and that their plumber/electrician/handyman exclaimed "your home inspector should have caught that!" The implication was that I missed the problem, and if so, I'd be liable for the repair. These calls naturally left me with a sinking feeling, so I wanted to get to the bottom of things to see if I had indeed slipped up. In my fact-finding, I was alarmed to find out that the "issues" were not so much defects requiring repair, as they were contractors looking for work in a declining home repair market. Coupled with the fact that I operate primarily in a resort area (where owners are not local and have to rely on local tradespeople to evaluate the situation), the perfect storm now exists for less than honorable contractors to create work for themselves at the expense of home inspectors who are fingered as the culprit by the contractor, using the hard-earned cash of the unsuspecting homeowner.

One instance involved a client who was extensively renovating an older home she bought. In the process of changing out a vanity, the sink trap disintegrated. The contractor parlayed this small issue into replacement of lengths of copper domestic water pipe and the shower piping and valve, plus other incidentals. I was told by the client that according to the plumber the plumbing was a "mess". Fortunately, the general contractor saved the plumbing parts that were removed and I confirmed my suspicions after seeing the "mess". After looking over the work that was done and the pipes and components removed, I believe she was overcharged for work that was in fact unnecessary. The contractor (who did not hire the plumber) offered up that he had the same observation which he also shared with the owner.

Another instance involved a client who was told by the electrician that her electric wiring was not "up to code" and that it would need to be replaced. He said, of course, "your home inspector should have caught that". Well, for the uninformed, there is no requirement anywhere that says that a home built in 1960 must be brought up to current code, except if there is renovation work being performed. This is a make-work comment. If this were true, nearly every home built more than five years ago would require the services of a contractor to replace windows, raise handrails, install wind strapping, replace staircases, and perform a myriad of other things to bring the home up to "code". No preexisting home would be sold in this environment. Replacing an outlet or installing a ceiling fan does not require the rewiring a house, unless you are a contractor looking for a Caribbean vacation. Unfortunately, this client went ahead with the work and needlessly spent the money, and was upset with me until I explained what the truth was.

Besides these two instances, I have been brought in on several situations where homeowners wanted a second opinion on items they were told needed to be done on their homes by contractors. When I examined the situations, I can only use the word "egregious" to explain what the contractors were attempting to do. Case in point: A four-year old home where a deck extension had been installed without correct flashing, resulting in water intrusion into the pressboard subfloor beneath vinyl flooring. The owner was looking to take action against the builder for the subsequent damage, which a contractor they brought in told them would cost between $20,000 and $30,000 to fix. Mind you, the area of damaged floor was about 4" by 10" in size in a corner of the room. No framing was compromised. After looking at the "damage" and the likely cause, I figured that on the outside, $800 to $1,000 would completely fix the water intrusion problem, probably less.

A second problem called to my attention was a leak into a ceiling over a kitchen. The owners of a recently-purchased renovated home suspected a leak from where a second floor deck attached to the home, so they called in a deck contractor, whose solution was to remove the deck, install new flashing and reinstall the deck at a cost of $7,500. The owners paid a deposit but contacted me and asked for a second opinion. What I found was a hole in the exterior wall where the air conditioning refrigerant line sets enter the home (the condensing unit was on the deck, hence the hole for the refrigerant lines). The renovator never puttied the hole, so when it rained, the water went in the hole, into the wall and leaked onto the ceiling below. The fix? $3.00 worth of putty from Lowes. That's a lot less than $7,500. The people were able to get their deposit back, thank goodness.

The reality is, there are a lot of contractors out there that had tons of work two years ago but are now scratching around for tidbits in this uncertain home construction/renovation market. Rather than go on unemployment, or file for bankruptcy, those less than honorable ones are resorting to "make-work" projects and overcharging, or both. And, its convenient to tell a recent home buyer that "your home inspector should have caught that". If you find yourself in this situation, please call your home inspector right away. If nothing else, even if the inspector was not at fault, your inspector can guide you through the process of resolving the issue without you being overcharged. Or, if the inspector indeed did miss a material defect that was present at the time of the inspection, steps can be taken to amicably resolve the dispute at that time. Then, save your anger for the unscrupulous contractor!