QDEAR BARRY: We sold our house a year ago and now have disclosure problems with the buyers. The issue involves a carport slab that is built over a wood-framed structure, rather than directly on the ground. The buyers' home inspector failed to notice the space below the slab during his inspection.
Now the property is being resold, and the home inspector for the new buyers has discovered the crawl space. Unfortunately, he also found damage in the wood substructure.
As a result, the people who bought the property from us are demanding payment for repairs. We believe their inspector should have discovered the sub-area, as the recent home inspector did.
Just how much does a seller have to spell out for the buyer's home inspector? -- Rhonda
ADEAR RHONDA: A home inspector's responsibility is to discover conditions that are visibly discernible. If the most recent home inspection revealed the carport sub-area and its access opening, they probably should have been discovered by the first inspector, too, unless the access was concealed by personal property.
From that perspective, the first home inspector may bear some liability. However, this does not absolve you, the seller, from your legal obligation to provide full disclosure to buyers.
Your duty to the buyers was to disclose whatever conditions you were aware of at the time of the transaction. You may not have known about damages to the substructure, but you probably knew that the sub-area was there. Of course, you could be expected to mention this to the inspector only if you knew he had overlooked it.
If you were aware of his error, the matter should have been brought to his attention.
It is not the job of home inspectors, as some believe, to compensate for disclosures deliberately withheld by sellers or to indemnify sellers for the financial consequences of their silence.
Sellers should be willing to tell home inspectors of conditions that might concern a buyer or that might aid the inspector in his job. Only you can say whether the current complaint arises from unintended error or from deliberately withheld information.
At this stage, it would be advisable for all concerned parties, including the home inspectors, to meet on the property to discuss a fair resolution. With luck, the repairs might not be too costly.
Barry Stone is a professional home inspector. If you have questions or comments, contact him through his Web site, www.housedetective.com, or send mail to 1776 Jami Lee Ct., Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, Calif. 93401.
Distributed by Access Media Group