When a Home Inspector Gets It Wrong

Home seller gets bad news, needs tips on how to proceed.

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Q: I have a question about doors and windows. My home was inspected recently, and the inspector told the prospective buyer the following:

The door to the garage was installed wrong. The door opens over a step, creating a hazard, and the bedroom windows are too small for emergency use and need to be replaced.

Why must I replace a door that was installed more than 50 years ago and has worked fine for years without being a hazard? And just how in the world did the windows become too small? They're the same size as when I bought the home.

The lady didn't buy my home, and now I'm supposed to tell other prospective buyers about the door and the windows. How am I supposed to sell my home?

A: Wow! I'm aware of inspectors, appraisers and real estate agents who are not trained properly, but your story illustrates the need to educate yourself on the people you allow into your home.

First, the inspector, in my opinion, was dead wrong to ask that the windows be replaced in a 50-plus-year-old house.

It is true in modern construction that bedroom windows have to be a certain size and a specific distance from the floor to provide for emergency egress. In case of a fire or other emergency, the window may be your only exit.

But in most states, there were no rules 50 years ago concerning doors and windows. In fact, a lot of the homes from the 1950s were designed with small bedroom windows set high off the floor, windows that in no way meet modern codes.

Changing the windows in an older home would require major and expensive structural alterations. Your house is what is called "grandfathered in." "Grandfathering" means that because your house was constructed before the current rules were made, you do not have to bring your house up to current codes or building standards each time the home is sold. In some counties, there are exceptions for changing appliances or remodeling where current codes have to be observed, but I've never heard of having to replace bedroom windows.

The same is true of the garage door. There simply were no rules for the homebuilders of that era to follow.

Opening a door over a step is dangerous if someone is standing on the step, but I'm betting that the door in your house is half-glass, where you could see someone on the step. If the inspector had been on his toes, he would have pointed out that the glass in the garage door also does not meet most modern codes.

You have the right to refuse access to a home inspector, real estate agent, pest inspector, appraiser, buyers' relatives — anyone of whom you do not approve.

Check the credentials of the inspector, making your concerns known to prospective buyers. You can find information on home inspectors from real estate agents, bank loan officers, attorneys, appraisers, engineers, county building officials, insurance agents or contractors. Contractors may be the best source of information, as they often perform the repairs outlined by a home inspector.

You can also hire your own home inspector and present the new report to the next prospective buyer. Your new home inspector's report should meet the requirements of full disclosure.

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

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