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How to lessen a home inspector’s chance of missing a problem

Make sure you accompany the inspector on the tour of the home and flag issues they may be overlooking. (Dreamstime)
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Q: I had a home inspection done about two months ago when I was purchasing my home. Once I moved in, I noticed a small room with a concrete floor and a water heater. The floor has a long crack running the length of the room. Also, the threshold has multiple pieces of concrete chipped out. All of this was not in the report. I called the inspector and sent him photos. The inspector was very apologetic and took the blame. The inspector said the room was filled with boxes and household goods when he went to inspect. He should have at least seen the chipped concrete. What recourse should I have?

A: Let’s start with the idea that there is no such thing as a perfect home inspection. Hiring a professional home inspector to do a complete inspection of the property you’re buying doesn’t guarantee that you’re buying a perfect home or guarantee that nothing is wrong — or will go wrong — with the home.

An inspector should, however, do a complete inspection of the home, top to bottom, including the crawl space, attic and any outbuildings on the property. If the property is a condo or co-op and there are common areas, such as a parking garage, clubhouse or basement mechanicals, you may want to tell the inspector to plan to inspect those as well.

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The whole point is to scrutinize the home and point out things that are materially wrong with the home, such as a damaged or aging roof, or things that could go wrong in the near future, such as an old furnace or HVAC system. Some inspectors may point out cosmetic issues. Others will simply omit those from the report.

In this case, your home inspector clearly missed the cracked floor and the hot water heater. It’s possible he missed the room, or perhaps he opened the door and saw that the room was crammed full of boxes and furnishings and closed the door.

Not great, but inspectors aren’t movers. They’re not in a position to move furnishings and boxes in the home they’re inspecting. If you were tagging along during the inspection (we highly recommend buyers go to their own home inspection and follow along right behind the inspector), perhaps you might have noticed the room and called the inspector’s attention to it. Perhaps you might have asked the seller’s agent if you could move the boxes so the inspector could take a closer look.

It sounds as though you weren’t there for the inspection. Best practices dictate that when inspectors do run across a room they can’t fully inspect, they note that the area or room is inaccessible on their written report.

Your inspector didn’t find the issue or, it sounds like, the room. And, he didn’t let you know. That’s on him.

You asked what recourse you have, but the first question is to figure out how you’ve been damaged by the crack. How big is it? How badly chipped is the concrete? A crack that is less than an eighth-inch wide may not be structurally significant. Many homes have foundation and floor cracks. Hairline cracks can be a normal part of settling and may not indicate serious structural damage. You might not have to do anything to remedy the problem. Now, if the crack is a quarter-inch wide or more, and is evidence of foundation problems, we understand your concern because the repairs could be extensive.

As for the hot water heater, is it working? Are there others? Or was it an old hot water heater that isn’t connected to anything and was just sitting there?

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While the inspector couldn’t see the crack or hot water heater during the inspection, you should have seen it during the final walk-through, after the sellers had moved everything out but prior to the closing. Did you do a final walk-through? If you had seen the damage prior to the closing, you could have negotiated compensation before the papers were signed and the deal closed.

But the deal has closed, so it’s probably on you to figure out whether the crack is indicative of a bigger issue or is normal and easily repaired? Sometimes it costs a few hundred dollars to repair small concrete cracks. Have a professional take a look to determine if the crack is due to normal settling of the home. If there is a repair that’s needed, get a couple of estimates.

Sam has had clients pay as little as $150 to fill in cracks. If that’s all the repair will cost, you can ask the inspector to cover it. But we’re not sure the inspector has a legal obligation to reimburse you, even if he did miss that room.

If it turns out the crack is a serious problem for the home, or if the hot water heater is old or needs to be replaced, and if these become big dollar issues for you, you’ll need to consult an attorney and explore your options.

It’s possible the seller had an obligation to disclose the crack to you. If they had that obligation and didn’t disclose, your recourse may be against the seller, and to a lesser extent, the inspector.

Ilyce Glink is the author of “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask” (4th Edition). She is also the CEO of Best Money Moves, an app that employers provide to employees to measure and dial down financial stress. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact them through her website, ThinkGlink.com.

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