The home inspector missed a problem. Now what?
Although a home inspection is not a mandatory part of the home buying process, real estate agents will always encourage buyers to arrange one.
A professional home inspector will look over the plumbing, electrical systems, and other essential parts of the home to identify any deficiencies or concerns. Once they have the inspector's report, a buyer is in a better position to ask the seller to complete repairs or lower the purchase price to account for this work.
But home inspections are not infallible, and they may not catch every problem in a property. A few months after you settle in the home, you might notice a serious issue such as a roof leak or a faulty furnace.
Homeowners will have some remedies available when a problem goes unnoticed by an inspector. Buyers should also be aware of some commonly missed problems and what an inspector's contract says about their liability.
Make sure you hire a reputable home inspection company. Julie Ryan Evans, writing for the National Association of Realtors, says you can ask for recommendations and see if a company has been favorably reviewed. Your real estate agent or lender will often have a company or two in mind.
Review the inspector's contract to see if they have adequate insurance. When they are properly covered by professional and general liability insurance, you'll be able to make a claim for any serious issues that were overlooked. Calling the insurance company to confirm that the inspector's insurance coverage is up to date offers an additional safeguard.
Look out for an exculpatory clause in the document. Brian Farkas, writing for the legal site Nolo, says these clauses will limit the inspector's liability. An exculpatory clause may allow you to recover only a modest amount of money for an inspector's oversight, or may absolve them for any deficiencies in areas they were not able to see or access.
The buyer should make time to accompany the inspector as they look at various systems. Evans says this walkthrough will allow the inspector to point out any noticeable issues to you, as well as some useful home features such as the main water shutoff valve. You can also alert the inspector to anything you've spotted as a potential problem.
Once the inspection is complete, you'll receive a report with the inspector's comments and photos. Review the document to see if there are any areas the inspector has not reported on due to inaccessibility or other concerns. For example, a winter inspection may note that fallen snow has made it impossible to do an exterior assessment of the foundation.
Even if the inspection has been rather thorough, some issues are commonly overlooked. Megan Mollman, writing for the financial site Investopedia, says inspectors will often do only a brief inspection of the HVAC system to make sure the heating and air conditioning will turn on. Similarly, they can confirm that an appliance is working but may not be able to diagnose if it is likely to break down soon.
Inspectors are unlikely to climb onto a roof or fly a drone over the shingles to see what shape they are in. Most will use binoculars to get a closer look at the top of the home and see if there are any noticeable problems. You may not be aware that the roof leaks until the next rainstorm; if you are worried about its condition, hiring a roofer will give you an opinion on its longevity and the cost for any repairs.
If a problem pops up after the inspection, you'll have to assess its severity as well as the likelihood that an inspector should have noticed it. It's easy to fix issues such as a leaky faucet or sticky window, so it's usually not worth making a fuss over these deficiencies. If the problem relates to a home system and will require thousands of dollars to fix, such as the breakdown of a furnace, it's better to bring it to the attention of an inspector.
The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors says a home inspector might admit the error and offer to address the issue. In other cases, they will say they aren't liable for the problem but are willing to help you fix it.
When the inspector is insured, you'll be able to make a claim on this coverage to receive funds for the repairs. If there was an exculpatory clause, you'll likely only be able to recover their fee or another modest amount of money. However, Farkas says the inspector may be willing to resolve the issue through mediation rather than risk a lawsuit.
Even if you want to pursue legal action for an undisclosed fault, you may want to start with the seller. If the seller knew about serious defects in the property and did not disclose them during the transaction, they can be held liable for the repair. The inspector can be considered liable if they failed to perform certain checks or if the buyer argues that they missed a problem that a capable inspector reasonably could have identified.
If the residence came with a home warranty, you may be able to resolve the issue without going through legal channels. While warranties won't cover repairs for pre-existing problems identified in an inspection, they can help you fix unexpected problems that are found later on.
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