A reader from Ocean City wrote to ask about a structural issue that was not detected by the home inspector.
She stated that she was initially pleased with the inspection service, but later detected some unusual settlement in the property. An interior wall, which had required cosmetic repair, quickly developed new cracks after finishing and painting.
She called in an engineer for advice. According to the engineer, the inspector had missed a structural defect under the wall in the crawlspace that should have been "obvious" at the time of the inspection and that would require a costly repair. The reader wanted advice on how to handle the issue.
The first step is to contact the inspector.
The inspector should be given the opportunity to review the concern and try to resolve the issue with the homeowner directly. Standards of practice of organizations that establish credentials for the home inspection industry, such as the American Society of Home Inspectors, require inspectors to observe major structural components that are accessible.
The inspector should be able to explain what parts of the structure were observed during the inspection and why a structural defect under the wall was not identified. Businesses place a great deal of importance on customer satisfaction and are interested in resolving concerns, and the home inspection business is no exception. If a problem of a serious nature has been overlooked, most inspection companies have procedures for handling these issues.
In this case, the problem may not have been reasonably discoverable during the home inspection. Although home inspections are effective at reducing the risk of buying a house with costly problems, it is impossible to find every major defect in every house.
Conditions encountered during inspections often restrict access. Crawlspaces and attics may be inaccessible without significant risk of damaging the property or injuring the inspector, and homeowners' furniture and belongings can significantly obstruct access.
Air conditioning cannot be tested in cool weather, and heating systems cannot be thoroughly tested in hot weather. Also, inspections are not technically exhaustive investigations of the condition of the property, but are rather a process of observing parts of the systems and structure, and testing certain components, in a relatively short period - usually several hours.
A good inspector can be thorough despite these limitations and can find most significant defects.
It is possible that the defect identified by the engineer does not require as major a repair as initially believed.
As with most repair issues on a home, more than one acceptable option will exist to correct the problem. While the most expensive repair may work fine, a less costly approach may be just as successful.
Contractors who specialize in structural repairs are practiced and efficient - repair of termite damage is a common example. Obtain repair estimates and, if a lower cost approach is proposed, make sure the engineer has considered that approach. Your home inspector may want to offer assistance to you in formulating a plan for repair.
Dean Uhler has been a home inspector for more than 12 years and is president of Baltimore-based Boswell Building Surveys, Inc. Uhler is a member of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) and is the treasurer of the Greater Baltimore Chapter of ASHI.
Questions, with name, address and daytime telephone number, about homes and home inspections can be faxed to 410-783-2517, e-mailed to email@example.com or mailed to Inspector's Eye, Second Floor, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278-0001.