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Sun, Aug. 18

Column: Randy readily replies to random researchers’ requests
Should a home inspector pay for something he breaks?

I’ve had a few emails recently about inspectors breaking things. Apparently a column I wrote in 2014 comes up when they are researching. And some have the nerve to email me saying they disagree with me! I replied to the naysayers: “I guess I could agree with you, but then we’d both be wrong.”

Here’s the point I made. If a home inspector is properly testing something that is required by law for him to do, he is not liable if it breaks or stops working. This is especially true if it is something the homeowner would or should normally do. Several times I have tested a GFCI outlet in a bathroom and it would not come back on. This would have happened no matter who pressed the test button; it just happened to be me.

A couple times I’ve tested the automatic reverse feature on an overhead door opener and it broke. I understand the seller saying “it worked before you got here, and now I can’t open my overhead door!” It’s better that I found out it was not working rather than someone’s car (or child!).

To be honest, the overhead door openers I broke were when I first started and were manufactured before 1993, so they did not have the reversing beam. I quickly learned how to be very careful when testing the auto-reverse feature.

But here’s the point. GFCIs and overhead door reverse features are specifically mentioned as items a home inspector has to test. And the owner is supposed to do these tests themselves on a regular basis. So why is an inspector liable to replace them?

Let’s go a step farther. Say I inspect a home that has been vacant for a couple months. It’s fall, so I turn on the furnace (with the thermostat) and it does not work. The seller says “the furnace worked the last time I used it.” Of course that was months ago, and what is wrong with the furnace has nothing to do with me turning up the thermostat. Should I be liable to replace a $2,000 furnace? There would be no home inspectors if we had to pay for everything that failed to operate when we turned it on.

Here’s an excerpt from that 2014 column:

“Part of my job description is to make sure everything is secure. So I ‘shake’ fireplace mantels, cabinets, light fixtures, etc. I don’t shake them hard — I just give them a little tug to make sure they are well secured. A couple years ago I inspected a home with cabinets on the garage wall. As usual, I pulled a little on the overhead cabinets to make sure they were tight. The cabinet directly over the sink came off the wall and started to fall onto the sink faucet. I knew if the cabinet fell it would break the faucet, resulting in water spraying all over the garage. So I grabbed the cabinet. Which was heavy. In fact, it was very heavy. It was so heavy I was having trouble holding it over the sink. It was so heavy I was wondering if I was getting old. Then the cabinet leaned toward me a little and the doors swung open.

“The good news is I was not getting old and weak. The bad news is there were about 50 paint cans in the cabinet. The good news is the cabinet was getting lighter. The bad news is this was because the gallon paint cans were rapidly falling out of the cabinet.”

That story is totally true (the number of paint cans may be slightly exaggerated). Somehow no paint cans opened. I did not offer to pay to properly secure the cabinets. I feel the loose cabinets posed a danger to my clients, and I was just doing my job in discovering them.

Randy West owns Professional Building Consultants in Prescott. He is state-certified and has performed more than 7,000 home inspections in the Prescott area. West serves on the Home Inspector Rules and Standards Committee for the Arizona Board of Technical Registration. Contact him at randywest2@gmail.com or visit http://inspectprescott.com.

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