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Buyer believes agent’s inspector missed HVAC defect. Who is to blame?

Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin, Tribune Content Agency on

Q: I purchased a home in June. My real estate agent hired an inspector and collected a fee from my husband and me. The inspector wrote an inspection report that minor problems were showing. I paid a second fee for him to return after the owners repaired the problems to ensure that everything was in great shape.

We closed and moved into the home. The very day we moved into the house, water started leaking from the ceiling and the HVAC system malfunctioned. We had an independent HVAC company come out to assess the problem. The temperature in the house was over 100 degrees and we have two toddlers. He stated that there was an obvious preexisting condition that anyone should have been able to identify. This would especially be true for a home inspector.

We paid the home inspector twice, $425 for the initial assessment and $100 to verify that the minor issues were addressed. But the HVAC was obviously defective, and we spent the first two weeks in this home without air conditioning. Should we go after the broker, the home inspector or the seller?

A: Let’s start here: When you get the name of a home inspector (or real estate agent, or anyone else who is going to provide a service to you during your real estate transaction), please spend the time to investigate whether that person or company is good at what they do — and is the right person or company for you to hire.

We find it quite disconcerting that your real estate agent hired your inspector. Typically, agents will give you a list of several inspectors and then you can interview each of them to see which one is the best fit. This has several benefits. You’ll learn more about what different inspectors offer in the way of price and service. And you’ll figure out whether your personality is a mesh with this person, which is important because you’re going to follow that person around during the inspection to learn about the mechanical systems of the property you’re about to buy.

While many real estate agents offer great (and personal) recommendations for home inspectors, you can’t just rely on their word and not do your own research. You can still have a hit and a miss with an agent’s service providers.

 

Post-closing, things happen. It’s not unusual for us to receive letters from readers letting us know that as soon as they move into a home, they find problems. This past winter, we heard from a couple that closed on an expensive home in New York. The roof leaked the night they moved into the property. Often, our readers find problems with older air conditioning systems when they turn them on for the first time after the winter or during a heat wave.

What new homeowners of older homes learn is that sometimes systems fail. Yes, older air conditioning systems may suddenly fail after a long winter, even if it worked fine during the last cooling season. And heat waves, like those experienced in the Northwestern and Southwestern U.S. this summer, can put extreme stress on an older HVAC system and it will just die. For the most part, a home inspector doesn’t have a crystal ball to let them know when or how the system will fail.

For us, the relevant issue is determining what the inspector saw when he toured the property both times and what his report told you about the condition of the HVAC system. We’re also wondering if the contractor you hired was legitimate and not simply trying to sell you a new system.

We frequently get questions from readers letting us know that their home inspector missed something, but in reality the problem is coincidental. After a hard rain, you can get water in your basement even if the basement never had a leakage or seepage problem. During a big snow (followed by a long cold spell), an ice dam can form, and the roof might develop new leaks. A home inspector can’t see or find everything.

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