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Barry Stone: Realtor uncertain about home inspector referrals

 [Metro Creative Connection]
[Metro Creative Connection]

DEAR BARRY: As a professional Realtor, disclosure of property defects is an essential part of my business. I don't ever want to be liable for problems that surface after the close of escrow. To protect myself and my clients, I always choose the most thorough home inspector available.

Attorneys, however, warn agents not to recommend any particular inspector, but rather to give a list of inspectors to buyers and to let them choose. The problem with this approach is that my clients may choose an inspector with insufficient qualifications. If a defect is missed by the inspector, I could have liability problems later. How can I deal with this predicament?

— Bruce

DEAR BRUCE: Liability, as you know, is a primary concern among real estate professionals. Even when an agent sets high priority on full disclosure, along comes another dilemma to complicate the picture. Your problem now is how to ensure that your clients choose a top-gun home inspector, while you exert no direct influence upon their decision? That can be a challenge.

A possible solution would be to offer your clients a complete profile of each of the best available inspectors. To initiate this process, you could request a resume and sample report from each home inspector. A packet of these materials could be given to each of your clients, enabling them to make an educated choice, based upon a comparison of professional qualifications. You could explain that they should read and review the information before calling the inspector of their choice.

Homebuyers have every reason to choose the most qualified and experienced home inspector. By equipping your buyers with factual information, materials that reflect the inspectors’ actual qualifications, you can provide liability protection for yourself, without directly influencing the buyers’ choice.

DEAR BARRY: A friend suggested that I replace the ungrounded outlets in my bathroom with GFCI outlets for added safety. He explained that GFCI outlets can prevent electric shock when appliances are used near water. My contractor disagrees. He says that GFCI outlets will not work with my old wiring system because there are no ground wires. Is there any way to add GFCI protection to my bathroom outlets without having to upgrade the wiring?

— Dave

DEAR DAVE: Grounding is not necessary for the proper function of a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). The way GFCI outlets work is by detecting differences in amperage between the hot and neutral wires. When the amp levels are not equal, the GFCI device responds by disconnecting the power.

A GFCI outlet requires hot and neutral wires only. In older homes, where ground wires are not installed, GFCI outlets can significantly improve the electrical safety at minimal cost. Adding GFCI protection is a good idea, not only at the bathroom outlets, but anywhere that electricity is likely to be used near water, such as kitchens, laundry sinks, wetbars, garages, pools and spas.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the web at