Cosmetic Defects Worth Including in Disclosure

Special to The Times

Question: What's the point of a home inspector disclosing cosmetic defects? I'm selling my home and just had a "structural" inspection. The report recommended repainting a stain on the ceiling. This stain is not a "structural" problem, but it has started a chain of requests from the buyer to correct cosmetic defects.

Our contract does not spell out the difference between cosmetic repairs and structural repairs. So now the buyer is using the inspection report as a shopping list. What should I do?

Answer: Your point is well taken, but with some important qualifications. Cosmetic defects, such as ceiling stains, should not become the focus of a home inspection report, and the repair of stains is certainly not incumbent upon a seller. But stains on a ceiling are indicative of past or current leakage of either the roof or the plumbing system. Further evaluation of such conditions is often warranted.

If an inspection takes place during dry weather, it is not always possible to determine whether rain leakage will occur, but a specific review of roof surfaces above ceiling stains is a critical part of a detailed inspection.

Another item that needs clarification is your repeated reference to a home inspection as a structural inspection. In a strict sense, the word "structural" is very limited in its scope, referring primarily to issues involving foundations, framing and ground stability.

A home inspection, however, encompasses far more issues than these, including, but not limited to, the plumbing, heating and electrical systems, fireplaces and chimneys, roofing, built-in appliances, ground drainage, general safety compliance and much more.

In essence, the purpose of an inspection is to identify significant property defects that are visually discernible. Cosmetic defects are typically included as a courtesy only. But to limit the scope of a home inspection to purely structural considerations is to drastically reduce the accepted standards of practice for a physical inspection.

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If you have questions or comments, contact Barry Stone through his Web site at Distributed by Access Media Group.

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