QDEAR BARRY: Before we bought our house, our home inspector found rotted floor framing under the house. The sellers refused to pay for repairs. Our contractor estimated $4,000 for the work. This seemed acceptable, so we bought the house. After we moved in, the repair work was begun. But when the contractor removed some siding, he discovered two adjacent foundation walls, one original and one added. Wet soil between these two walls had caused major framing damage that had not been visible until then. Now the repair bid is $24,000. We called the sellers, but they denied any knowledge or responsibility for this mess. If we had known about this, we wouldn't have bought the house. What can we do? -- Alice

ADEAR ALICE: Your situation is all too common: A major building defect is undisclosed because the sellers, for one reason or another, weren't aware of it. If the home inspector had found the problem, the purchase contract could have been renegotiated -- either the sellers could have addressed the problem, the price of the property could have been reduced or the buyers could have canceled the purchase.

Instead, because of untimely discovery, the buyers are saddled with staggering repair costs. Is this fair? Obviously not. These were pre-existing conditions, a fact that is not minimized by late discovery. The sellers owned those problems and sold them to someone else, whether or not they had prior knowledge.

Unfortunately, many sellers are inclined to take advantage of such situations. If you're extremely lucky, the sellers may be fair-minded and agree to pay for the foundation and framing repairs. If you're moderately lucky, they may agree to split the costs. Otherwise, you may have to go to court, and that course of action does not ways lead to justice or equity.

DEAR BARRY: I have been a home inspector for about three years and take the profession very seriously. I belong to a recognized national association, am fully insured, and participate in continuing education. I try to be very thorough in my inspections, spending about an hour per 1,000 square feet. Thus, inspection of a 2,500-square-foot house lasts about 21/2 hours. There is one thing I wish you would emphasize more often in your column: Don't price shop for a home inspection. The cheapest price is not the best deal, it's the cheapest deal. -- Fred

DEAR FRED: You raise two points. I agree with one and disagree with another. Warnings against price shopping for home inspectors are certainly worth repeating again and again. A defect missed by a bargain inspector can cost 100 times the amount saved at the time of the inspection. The best method is to find the most thorough and experienced home inspector available.

Where we differ, however, is our assessment of the time necessary to perform a thorough inspection. If one hour per 1,000 square feet were a reliable formula, a 1,500 square foot home could be inspected in 11/2 hours. This is simply not enough time for a complete and comprehensive inspection. Two and a half hours is the minimum inspection time for any home, with rare exceptions.

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.

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