Even if you hire a great home inspector (ASHI member), when it comes to an underground fuel storage tanks, problems can be missed.
Q: We bought a house in Winchester, VA about ten years ago. We had a professional home inspector from the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) inspect the house before we bought it. The ASHI inspector noted on the form for heating, etc. that we had an in-ground fuel tank. That was it.
Later, our insurance company dropped us due to the tank liability. Even though the tank was virtually empty and there were no local, county or state laws against it, our house could not be sold because of the tank. Because we were not advised of this before we bought the house, we had extreme stress, took time to have to deal with contractors, and had to deal with local and state agencies, and spent about $5,000 of our money, instead of having the seller deal with it.
The ASHI inspector has since retired but said all he had to do was mention that it was in the ground; he did not have to tell us what complications that entailed. I checked with the national and this region’s ASHI associations and they agreed.
I think most home buyers would feel if they got an ASHI inspection then they were about as fully informed as one could get. Obviously, this is not the case. I hope you will write about this so others may avoid the situation that we found ourselves in.
A: You raise a good point. You’re right to feel that the home inspector should have given you better real estate advice having to do with the underground fuel storage tank. However, home inspectors don’t have the ultimate responsibility to advise home buyers on the risks they take in dealing with the many issues that it takes to own a home. They don’t educate buyers on the costs of maintaining or replacing a septic system nor do they tell you your home may fall down if they find a termite infestation in the home.
The inspector will tell you if he or she has found termites in the home, if there is a problem with the septic system and will note on the inspection report any other issues that may pertain to the home. Ultimately, you must decide what to do with that information and how to handle any issues with the seller in terms of compensation.
If the home inspector finds asbestos in the home or lead pipes used for the water supply, the home inspector will note those facts on the inspection report. But the inspector won’t tell you not to buy the home and many home inspectors may include in their report the risks associated with asbestos in a home or the problems with lead in your water.
More to your point, however, is that the inspector should have gone a bit further in identifying the underground storage tank and should have alerted you to its existence being a problem at the home. But you have to keep in mind that the home inspector and the report the home inspector gives you will never give you a complete picture of all of the issues you may face when it comes to owning your home.
Some home inspectors will give you a report along with a general discussion of each issue that may be raised with the inspection of your home. Other home inspectors will even give a range of estimates as to what it takes to fix, replace or take care of certain issues in a home.
Given all these variables, you might say that ASHI might set minimum standards for their members, but does not guaranty that any of their home inspectors will give you a complete and accurate picture of your home. ASHI requires its members to have a certain level of home inspections under their belt and to have undertaken a certain minimum amount of learning regarding the issues that revolve around home construction and home maintenance.
With this in mind, any homeowner out there must still make his or her own determination as to the best home inspection for his or her home purchase. They should get referrals, understand how the home inspection process works, know what is included and what is not included in the home inspection process and have a team of great professionals to help out during the home buying process. They should probably hire a real estate attorney as part of their home buying team to give them advice on real estate law issues. Your attorney might have given you additional information pertaining to the underground storage tank that was pointed out during the home inspection and you could have dealt with it then.
We know some home buyers who purchased a home and the home inspector did not see evidence of an underground storage tank. Later, while building an addition to the house, a tank was discovered and the homeowners had to engage the services of a tank removal company to have it properly removed and disposed.
To this day, you could still say that the saying “buyer beware” is still true. You have to become your own expert in the home buying process to ask the right questions and understand the issues and risks involved in buying a home. Even with the best home inspector in the world, things that are wrong with a home can be missed. There are limits to what a home inspector can see during a home inspection and some things can be missed.We’d say you were pretty lucky that the cost of removing the tank was only $5,000 as you could have found out that the tank had ruptured and you might have spent much more than that cleaning up the soil around the home.
One final thought. Every home buyer has the right to accompany the home inspector on the home inspection. While you’re following around the inspector, you should be asking detailed questions about everything you don’t understand. When the inspector discovered the tank, you could have easily turned to him and said, “What does this really mean? Is this going to be a problem to remove? Why would I want to remove a tank or not, and how much does it cost?”
Even if you didn’t follow around the inspector, you could have called later and asked those questions. And, if you had used a real estate attorney to assist you, you could have asked him or her.
If you had asked the question, you might have been given enough information to alert you to do more research on the topic.