Home-Inspection Expectations

Expert offers tips on what to do when problems arise after the home inspector leaves.

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Q: I recently purchased a home in Kansas, and, as recommended, we had the home inspected. After taking possession of the home, we discovered a problem with the heating system. We contacted the real estate salesperson, who told us to contact the home inspector.

We showed the inspector the problems with the furnace. He explained that the furnace was working properly when he inspected the home two months ago.

What should we do now that we have moved in and found several problems that were not disclosed by the home inspection? The real estate agent will not return our calls, and the inspector will not take any responsibility.

A: The first thing you should do is make the repairs needed to safely heat the home. You did not mention the problem with the furnace, so I'm unable to advise you which direction to take in order to make the repairs.

However, if the furnace is not venting properly or has a damaged heat exchanger, the byproducts of combustion can enter the living area and produce a hazardous condition. If you have one of these problems, you must make repairs now. Do not wait for the agent or the inspector to contact you.

Later, if you can reach the real estate agent, have him check to see if the home came with a buyer's warranty, a common sales practice in the real estate industry. The agent may either sell you a policy or provide a policy with the home to make the sale more attractive.

A warranty, if in effect, may cover some of the repair costs.

I can relate to the home inspector's reaction to your claims. An inspector can find only the problems or defects that exist and are viewable at the time of the inspection. When looking at an older furnace that is in proper working condition, it is impossible to predict how or when it will fail. The only guarantee a home inspector can give you is this: Everything in or on the home will fail sooner or later.

If there was a defect with the furnace that the inspector failed to check, he may be liable for the repairs. Again, not all parts of a furnace or other appliances are inspected. Check the signed agreement the home-inspection company gave you before the inspection.

You mentioned other problems the inspector failed to disclose. When a home is occupied, there are areas of the home that cannot be visually inspected--areas inside filled closets or under stairways, floors under furniture, attics where the access panel is too small or is blocked, under floor crawl spaces that are too narrow or are flooded, and on and on.

When the home inspector cannot inspect an area of a home, it should be noted in the report as to what was not inspected and why. Thoroughly read your report, then call the home inspector if you have any questions about all those other problems.

To find a list of the items that are to be inspected from the Standards of Practice, visit the National Association of Home Inspectors website at www.nahi.org and click on "about NAHI." Then select "consumer information," then Standards of Practice.

Or go to the American Society of Home Inspectors at www.ashi.org. Then click on "home buyers and sellers," then on "Standards of Practice." Although these standards vary somewhat, they cover what a home inspector is required to inspect and what areas are exempt from a normal visual inspection, plus the limitation of the visual inspection.

Because these standards are updated from time to time, you should either visit the websites before you have a home inspected or ask the inspector to provide you with a current copy of the standards he follows.

(Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors.)

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