Asbestos Pipe Insulation Not Disclosed

Apr 14 2015

The House Detective: by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:   My home was built in 1926 and has asbestos insulation on all the hot water pipes under the building. Fortunately, all of this asbestos has been wrapped. When I first learned about it, I was horrified and wondered why my home inspector hadn’t mention it when I bought the property. My main concern is what will happen when I eventually want to sell the home. Can I resell it in this condition, without penalty?  Am I required to have the asbestos removed? And also, do I have recourse from my home inspector for not mentioning the asbestos?  Judy

Dear Judy:  Asbestos pipe insulation was common in the 1920s and is not regarded as a significant health risk when it is undamaged and intact. Fortunately, the asbestos insulation in your home been encapsulated, rendering it in much safer condition than when it was exposed to the air.

As a seller, there is no requirement for removal of asbestos, and there are no penalties for merely having it. Your only requirement will be to provide full disclosure to prospective buyers, to let them know that the asbestos material is present. If the former owners were the ones who had the pipes wrapped, they probably knew about the asbestos and should have provided some disclosure.

Environmental hazards such as asbestos are not within the scope of a home inspection. However, competent inspectors who take their work seriously will often point out situations where the presence of asbestos is likely, such as insulated pipes in an old home. This is something that your home inspector would have been wise to do, even though not required to do so.

The House Detective is distributed by 1000WattConsulting. Do not republish without written consent. To purchase reprint rights please contact marc@1000wattconsulting.com

Questions regarding home inspection please email Barry Stone at questions@housedetective.com

House Need To Be Rewired?

Apr 08 2015

The House Detective: by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:   We just bought a home but can’t move in because of major electrical problems. Before we bought it, our home inspector found a few electrical defects, but he said these were minor, so we waited till the escrow closed before making repairs. Our electrician now says that the previous owner tampered with the wiring, and the entire house needs to be rewired. But we don’t have enough money to pay for that kind of repair. Shouldn’t our home inspector have reported this situation, and isn’t he liable for the cost of rewiring?  Carol

Dear Carol:   If your home inspector failed to identify visible defects in the electrical wiring, then he is probably liable for the repair costs, depending on liability limits in the inspection contract and liability laws in your state. However, before rushing to judgment regarding liability, there are other questions that should be answered.

Presently, you have two conflicting opinions about the electrical system. The home inspector says there are some minor defects (whatever that means), and the electrician says the house needs to be rewired. The question is, “Who is correct?” Two possibilities come to mind: either you have a home inspector who overlooked significant defects or an electrician trying to land a big job. This uncertainty should be resolved before taking action.

One thing to keep in mind is that it’s extremely unusual for a house to require total rewiring. Most electrical defects are specific and can usually be repaired without replacing all of the wires. If the previous owner of your home “tampered with the wiring,” it is hard to imagine that he affected all of the circuits.

To gain some clarity on the situation, you should get a third opinion from another electrician. If the second electrician agrees that the house needs to be rewired, the home inspector should be notified and should come to the property to explain why he failed to correctly evaluate the electrical system. At that point, he should be asked to file a claim on his errors and omissions insurance, assuming that he has insurance.

Additionally, the seller of the home should not be dismissed from potential liability. The electrical code requires that there be a permit for altering the wiring in a home. If the seller “tampered” with the wiring in ways that affect safety, the work was most likely not permitted. If that is the case, the seller should have disclosed this prior to sale of the property. If no disclosure was made, the seller should pay for the electrical repairs.

The House Detective is distributed by 1000WattConsulting. Do not republish without written consent. To purchase reprint rights please contact marc@1000wattconsulting.com

Questions regarding home inspection please email Barry Stone at questions@housedetective.com

Seller Worried About Environmental Hazards

Mar 07 2015

The House Detective: by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:   I am concerned about environmental hazards in my home — about lead paint, asbestos ceilings, formaldehyde in treated wood, etc. etc. But I’m not very knowledgeable about these things. I’ve read just enough to be scared to death! Now we are planning to sell our home, built in 1978, and are concerned about what may have to be disclosed to buyers. What do you advise?  Kim

Dear Kim:    Given the age of your home, formaldehyde in plywood and other wood products is an unwarranted concern. After this many years, formaldehyde will have dissipated from wood laminates and finish materials. If you have installed newer materials, formaldehyde is a possibility, but this is not something a homeowner would be expected to know or disclose. Only an environmental inspector with specialized testing equipment could be expected to provide such information.

Textured ceilings in a 1978 home are likely to contain asbestos, but this type of asbestos containing material is not hazardous if left alone. Asbestos fibers only become airborne when the material is disturbed. If you or your buyers want to have the texture removed, it should be tested first to determine if special handling and disposal are required.

Asbestos can also be found in some vinyl flooring materials and some drywall finishing products. Again, this is only a concern if the material is to be removed, in which case testing would be needed.

The manufacture of lead paint was banned in 1978, but it’s use continued until supplies of the material were used up. Therefore, your home may have some lead paint. However, lead paint is only hazardous if ingested. Its mere presence is not unsafe. On the other hand, if exterior lead paint has been allowed to peel, chips may have contaminated the soil around the building. In that case, professional testing would be needed to determine if disclosure and remediation disclosure are needed.

The potential for asbestos and lead in your home is something you can disclose to buyers, with the understanding that you do not know for sure whether these substances are actually present.

The House Detective is distributed by 1000WattConsulting. Do not republish without written consent. To purchase reprint rights please contact marc@1000wattconsulting.com

Questions regarding home inspection please email Barry Stone at questions@housedetective.com

Buyers Afraid To Cancel Bad Deal

Feb 13 2015

The House Detective: by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:   While on leave from the military, we bought a home that was totally misrepresented. According to the listing, it was a 2300 square foot, four-bedroom, lake view house. During the escrow, we read the tax documents and discovered that the home is actually 2000 square feet with only three bedrooms. We also learned that the fourth bedroom is an unpermitted addition and the “lake” is a retention pond. When we tried to cancel the sale, the seller threatened to keep our deposit and take us to court. We consulted an attorney, but he said he couldn’t do anything in this case.  So we closed escrow and now owe more than the current appraisal value of the property. What can we do?  Doug

Dear Doug:    It is very disappointing to know that you closed on the property. Once you learned that the listing details were false, you had every right to cancel the sale. The sellers could not have gotten your deposit without taking legal action, and they had no basis for their claim because they were guilty of fraudulent misrepresentation and violation of seller disclosure laws. The same culpability applies to the listing agent, who should definitely have known better. Furthermore, anyone who would abuse members of our military in this way can add “scum-hood” to their other reprehensible attributes.

The fact that your attorney did not advise you not to buy the property is actually astonishing. It’s hard to image someone with a law degree being so bereft of common sense. At this point, you need some better advice from a more reliable real estate attorney. 

The House Detective is distributed by 1000WattConsulting. Do not republish without written consent. To purchase reprint rights please contact marc@1000wattconsulting.com

Questions regarding home inspection please email Barry Stone at questions@housedetective.com

Crazy Buzzing In Bathroom Wall

Jan 26 2015

The House Detective: by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:   I have an intermittent buzzing sound in my bathroom wall, and it’s driving me crazy. It only buzzes between sunset and 11pm every evening and is very noisy. I have tried turning off the electrical power at the main, turning off individual circuit breakers, and shutting off the water main, but the noise continues each evening. Sometimes it stops for five or ten seconds and then starts up again. A contractor suggested opening the wall to see what’s going on, but we just remodeled the bathroom, and we hate to tear things up. What do you advise?  Paul

Dear Paul:    Now that you have eliminated electrical and plumbing conditions as possible causes, the most likely suspect is a bee hive or wasp nest. Bees usually return to their hive around sunset, which is when you begin to hear the buzzing in your wall, and later in the evening they usually settle down for the night. Check your phone directory or the internet for local companies that specialize in bee hive removal. Unfortunately, you may have to cut open the wall of your newly remodeled bathroom.

The House Detective is distributed by 1000WattConsulting. Do not republish without written consent. To purchase reprint rights please contact marc@1000wattconsulting.com

Questions regarding home inspection please email Barry Stone at questions@housedetective.com

Where to Properly Place Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Jan 14 2015

The House Detective: by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:  I keep hearing conflicting opinions about whether to install carbon monoxide alarms high or low. Some people say that CO is heavier than air and is more likely to set off an alarm near the floor. Others say it is lighter than air and advise installing alarms near the ceiling. What is the truth about this, and what is the best place to install a carbon monoxide alarm?  Jamie

Dear Jamie:  This question comes up frequently in the course of home inspections, and incorrect information about carbon monoxide has become commonplace. So here are the facts. At standard temperature and pressure, the weight of air is 0.0807 pounds per cubic foot, and the weight of carbon monoxide is 0.0780 pounds per cubic foot. Considering the positions of the decimal points in these numbers, these differences are miniscule, making the relative weights of air and carbon monoxide nearly equal, with carbon monoxide being very slightly lighter. So what’s the best position for alarms, high or low?

To answer this question, an experiment was conducted in May of 2011 at the Center for Hyperbaric Medicine at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, Washington. The purpose of the test was to observe the way that carbon monoxide mixes with air and thus to determine the safest placement for carbon monoxide alarms, to provide the earliest possible warning of CO contamination in a home.

An eight-foot-tall Plexiglas chamber was constructed and three carbon monoxide alarms were installed, one in the top portion, one at the bottom, and one in the middle section. Carbon monoxide was then injected into the chamber in a series of tests. Sometimes, the CO was injected at the top, sometimes at the bottom, and sometimes in the middle. In each case, the CO diffused so rapidly with the air that there was found to be no apparent advantage in placing a CO alarm high or low inside a home.

What matters when installing CO alarms is to place them close to all bedroom entrances and to have one on each level of a multi-level home. Although not required, it is also advisable to install a CO alarm in the garage, since an idling vehicle is a likely source of carbon monoxide. And be sure to test each alarm regularly to make sure it remains operable.

The House Detective is distributed by 1000WattConsulting. Do not republish without written consent. To purchase reprint rights please contact marc@1000wattconsulting.com

Questions regarding home inspection please email Barry Stone at questions@housedetective.com

Home Inspector Goes To Small Claims Court

Dec 20 2014

The House Detective: by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:  I’ve been a home inspector for about two years, so I’m still learning. Unfortunately, I just learned a very hard lesson after doing a free walk-through inspection as a favor for a real estate agent who was buying a high-rise condo. Eight months later, he is suing me because he found fogging between the panes of a large dual-pane window. The controversial window is on the 15th floor, and the cost to replace it is $2,500. The agent had the window replaced before notifying me of the problem, and now he expects me to pay for it. We’re scheduled for small claims court next month, and I’d like some advice in presenting my side of the story to the judge.  Tim

Dear Tim:  Welcome to the enervating world of home inspection and real estate disclosure. Good deeds, as they say, may not go unpunished.

As this is not a legal advice column, I can only counsel you as a layman and a home inspector. Additional advice from an attorney is strongly advised before representing your side of the story in court

Since you did the inspection as a favor, you probably do not have a signed contract to specify the scope of the inspection or the limits of liability. Nevertheless, here are some effective points that can make a positive difference when presenting your case to the judge:

1)    This was not a paid home inspection but merely a casual walkthrough, performed as a personal favor, and therefore is not subject to the same standards as a full home inspection.

2)    You inspected the windows, and no evidence of a faulty dual-pane seal was apparent at that time.

3)    The agent also did not see the window defect prior to purchasing the property, indicating that the defect was not apparent or was nonexistent at that time.

4)    The agent is alleging that the window defect pre-existed the purchase of the property, but there is no way for him to prove that such was the case.

5)    It is common knowledge in the home inspection business that fogging between window panes is not always visible, depending upon variations in lighting and temperature.

6)    The eight-month time lapse between purchase of the property and discovery of the window defect indicates that the window seal may have failed after the property was purchased.

7)    You were never given an opportunity to re-inspect the failed window prior to its being replaced. It is common knowledge among real estate agents that home inspectors should be called to re-inspect a defect prior to making repairs.

8)    If the agent appears in court without an expert witness who is a professional home inspector, be sure to point out to the judge that the plaintiff has no expert witness who is qualified to testify regarding the standard of care for a home inspection.

Be sure to practice your presentation of these points, use notes in court so you won’t leave anything out, and spend an hour with an attorney for additional advice on presenting your case.

The House Detective is distributed by 1000WattConsulting. Do not republish without written consent. To purchase reprint rights please contact marc@1000wattconsulting.com

Questions regarding home inspection please email Barry Stone at questions@housedetective.com

Aftermath of an As-Is Sale

Dec 03 2014

The House Detective: by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:  We just purchased a home “as is.” The previous owner signed a mold disclosure statement that says there is no known mold. After moving in, we found that one entire bathroom wall is rotted with mold, and the roof has mold as well. Isn’t the seller liable for withholding this information?  Klemmy

Dear Klemmy:  Your question raises more than one issue. To begin, sellers are required to disclose all known defects, even when the sale is “as-is.” If the bathroom walls were covered with apparent mold, that should have been disclosed. However, mold does not cause walls to rot. The primary concern with mold is the release of airborne spores that can be harmful to breathe. If the walls seem rotted, there is probably some moisture damage that should also have been disclosed.

Before closing escrow on a property, it is customary for the buyers to do a final walk-through inspection. If you had done this, the defective bathroom wall would probably have been seen. Therefore, you may not have been exercising sufficient due diligence as buyers.

As for mold on the roof, that would be highly unusual and should be confirmed by a qualified mold professional. What you see on the roof may actually be lichen, a combination of algae and fungus that commonly grows on the north sides of trees and the north slopes of roofs. Lichen is not mold and is not known to be harmful to people or to roofs.

The final issue is whether you hired a home inspector as part of your due diligence. Failure to have a professional home inspection is a common mistake among buyers making an as-is purchase. Buying a house as-is means that the seller will not make repairs. It does not mean that you buy the property with blindfolds on: without finding out what you are buying in as-is condition.

If you bought the house without a home inspection, now is the time to find a highly qualified inspector to see what other defects were not disclosed. After you get the inspection report, you can consider whether to hold the seller liable for non-disclosure.

The House Detective is distributed by 1000WattConsulting. Do not republish without written consent. To purchase reprint rights please contact marc@1000wattconsulting.com

Questions regarding home inspection please email Barry Stone at questions@housedetective.com

Undisclosed Septic Problem

Nov 12 2014

The House Detective: by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:  Two days after we moved into our home, the septic system backed up into the tub and toilet. This was a big surprise because the septic had been inspected and approved by a septic contractor before the close of escrow. We called a different septic contractor, and he said the leach field needs to be replaced for thousands of dollars. We called two other contractors for additional quotes. One of them told us that he had inspected the system a few months ago and had told the previous owners about the failed leach field, but the sellers never disclosed this to us. Another contractor told us that the Realtor was liable for recommending a septic contractor who is not licensed. The sellers have moved out of state, so we can’t hold them liable. What can we do to recoup this unexpected expense?  Jason

Dear Jason:  Sellers who conceal known defects from buyers are worthy of public disgrace. Unfortunately, your sellers seem to be out of harm’s way, having moved out of state, which leaves their agent and the agent’s septic contractor as the potentially liable parties. The agent is at fault for recommending an unqualified contractor. The contractor is culpable for issuing false findings, especially if this was done without a license.

To verify whether the septic contractor was, in fact, operating without a license, you should contact the state agency that issues licenses to contractors. Even if the contractor is licensed, there is the issue of the false septic report.

The agent, broker, and septic inspector should be notified by certified mail of the current situation. If no one is willing to pay for a new leach field, you probably have a strong case for small claims court. In any event, you should get some advice from a real estate attorney regarding your available remedies under law.

The House Detective is distributed by 1000WattConsulting. Do not republish without written consent. To purchase reprint rights please contact marc@1000wattconsulting.com

Questions regarding home inspection please email Barry Stone at questions@housedetective.com

Home Inspector’s Halloween

Oct 22 2014

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:  You never do columns that recognize holidays. Even at Christmas time andthe 4th of July, your articles are always about property defects, real estate disclosure, and home inspections. Now that Halloween is here, how about a spooky house story? Something in keeping with the season. Surely you’ve inspected a few creaky old houses. How about it?  Bram

Dear Bram:  Home inspections tend to be business-as-usual events: checking the foundations, roofing, plumbing, electrical wiring, etc. But there was one inspection that I recall with dread and discomfort; an inspection where property defects ceased to be of concern, where routine was over-shadowed by fear, where disclosures were eclipsed by a frenzied struggle to flee the premises. And it just so happened that this inspection occurred on the eve of Halloween.

The house was an old, neglected, two-story Victorian, with leaning fences, tangled vegetation, and dense vines engulfing the walls, windows, and roof. The property, in escrow as a probate sale, had been the subject of headlines when the owner was found hanging from the rafters of the foyer. The police investigation had not determined whether death was from suicide or foul play, and the body’s subsequent disappearance from the local mortuary had unsettled the community.

The buyers and agent were unable to attend the inspection, but the agent had left a key under the mat. Bracing myself in the cold gloom of the dilapidated porch, I pressed open the massive door, entered slowly, and commenced what I had hoped would be a routine inspection. But then, beneath the lofty ceiling of the dark interior, I beheld the silhouette of the noosed rope, still attached to a high, dusty beam. A foul odor of decay permeated the stagnant air, and I recalled reading that the previous owner had spent many days at the end of that rope before the neighbors had found him. The prospect of working alone in those dim, silent rooms unsettled me, and my foremost thought was to complete the job and get out of that ominous place.

A steep, ladder-like stairway descended to the unpaved basement floor, where I proceeded to inspect the moss-covered stone foundation walls, but the sounds of creaking timbers echoed throughout the building, disrupting my attention. In spite of this distraction, I busied myself and tried to dismiss my uneasiness. But then there seemed to be a different sound, somewhere at the far end of the upstairs hallway. At first, it blended with the incessant creaking of the structure, but the difference was unmistakable. This was not the sound of old rafters. It was the slow but steady cadence of footsteps. Someone was in the house.

Hoping to hear the voice of the real estate agent, I called out, “Hello, is someone upstairs?” No one answered, but the footsteps continued toward the basement entrance and suddenly stopped at the top of the stairwell. I called again, “Hello, who’s there?” Again, no answer. Then, a shadow appeared on the stairs and moved slowly, silently downward.

A dark, disfigured form gradually took shape, the head laid awkwardly against the left shoulder. Yet my attention was drawn from this to some shadowy, indistinct object that dangled from his left hand. As he reached the basement floor, a putrid foulness filled the room, so that breathing became forced and repugnant. Gripped with horror and disbelief, I was unable to move. But then, the eyes of that disjointed head found me, the lips formed a sardonic grin, dripping with thick gray saliva, and my mobility was wakened by a wave of terror. Grasping the top of the nearest foundation wall, I squeezed into the narrow space between the ground and the floor framing, seeking desperately for any path of escape. But as I looked back, the advancing form appeared atop the foundation wall and steadily pursued me into the dark crawlspace.

I scrambled breathlessly past rows of old stone piers, reaching a dead-end corner where the foundation walls joined, and realized with desperate finality that I could flee no further. Somewhere is the nearby darkness, I could hear that half dead form crawling toward me. Clutching at my flashlight, I pressed the switch and was startled by the impending nearness of the face: the glare of cold eyes, the glint of gray teeth, the viscous fluid that dripped from grimacing lips — and that mysterious object gripped in his left hand and dragging on the ground as he approached.

Terror pounded in my chest as I faced those final, hopeless, remaining seconds. The feet between us became inches. His right hand gripped my ankle with frightful force as he drew forward. Then his left hand extended the old gunny sack that he held, and the acrid smell of cold breath filled my face, as he cried, “Trick or Treat!!”

The House Detective is distributed by 1000WattConsulting. Do not republish without written consent. To purchase reprint rights please contact marc@1000wattconsulting.com

Questions regarding home inspection please email Barry Stone at questions@housedetective.com

Barry Stone

Barry StoneKnown today as "America's House Detective," Barry advises readers from coast to coast about home inspection and real estate disclosure, providing honest clarity, fresh wit, consumer protection, and even-handed fairness in his responses to real estate questions. Read more.

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