Give the guy a chance before raising the roof


A reader reports that her roof is leaking. She was told that the inspector is liable for this error because she does not believe he did a thorough job when he checked the home.

Dear reader:

If you believe you have grounds for a complaint against a home inspector, or with anyone else who has provided you with goods or services, it is a good rule to communicate your dissatisfaction to them as soon as possible. It also makes sense not to change the condition that you are complaining about until you've spoken with the inspector.

My suggestion is to call the inspector to report the problem, offer any information you have relating to it and ask whether it should have been discovered and reported to you during the inspection.

Most inspectors will willingly investigate a callback that addresses a matter that was within the scope of their inspection, provided they are given the opportunity to verify the conditions described, and provided the issue is raised within a reasonable period of time after the inspection.

The definition of a reasonable period of time will vary, depending on the nature of the problem.

Because some problems can arise simply due to the passage of time and everyday occurrences, an inspector may be less willing to assist you if several months have passed.

There may be a strong possibility that intervening events, such as newly inflicted damage, or simple wear and tear, caused the problem.

Also, if months have elapsed since the inspection, a concealed defect at the time of the inspection may have evolved into an obvious problem.

On a roof, factors such as thermal stresses, wind, ice or debris damage, foot traffic and age and exposure will cause changes in materials. Some roof leaks fall into that category and some do not.

For example, problems such as leaks caused by poor workmanship may exist from the moment the work is performed.

If a considerable time has elapsed, the feasibility of recalling conditions that existed during the inspection is diminished.

Some conditions will have been recorded in the inspection report, so recalling them from memory isn't necessary. But many relevant circumstances will be forgotten after a considerable time has passed, including factors such as the presence of boxes, floor coverings, furniture, personal property and people in different parts of the house, and what occurred during the inspection.

Now that the roof problem has been discovered, an attempt should be made to leave conditions on the roof substantially unchanged if you intend to call your home inspector about it. Your roofer or other contractor is unlikely to be a reliable judge of what should or should not have transpired during a home inspection, so the inspector should be given a chance to take a look.

Most inspectors will ask if they can return to look at the problem before responding to your questions or demands. Leaving conditions unchanged won't always be possible - a serious roof leak will need some type of immediate repair. But give due consideration to this before proceeding with repairs if you intend to hold the inspector accountable.

If you are unsatisfied with the inspector's response, or if you are convinced that the inspection was not competent, consider having another home inspection conducted.

Obtain a referral to a reliable inspector and check the inspector's resume before scheduling the inspection - membership in the American Society of Home Inspectors and significant experience as an inspector are two meaningful credentials.

The findings of the second inspection will help you decide how to proceed.

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