Yikes! Is what I think of when I see this headline. As a Realtor since 2005 there have been handful of occasions that an inspector has missed something. I recently got a call from a buyer that the inspector missed the polybutylene pipes in the house and she realized it when she went to install a water softener.

How can something like this happen? Well, in this case a lot of the piping was replaced where you could visibly see it. On the outside of the house, a piece of poly pipe was painted white as a result of a fresh exterior paint job (hopefully not maliciously) and the inspector verified in five different locations the plumbing was a pex product. 

But, once items are moved out of a house and/or you start opening up walls, which inspectors can’t do, additional knowledge could unfold. 

In this case, it appeared that the seller prior to the one my buyer purchased from, did a “superficial plumbing update” making updated connections at certain plumbing locations. It seems that the only way to have known that the polybutylene pipes existed would be to remove a wall. 

There’s several ways to look at a situation like this but I think it’s important to remember a few key things: 

  1. We are all human and mistakes happen.
  2. Rather than automatically assuming the worst about the person you bought from, what are the right ways to ask additional questions of the seller to ensure they didn’t maliciously do this?
  3. What are the real and actionable solutions?

In this case, we called the inspector back to the property to have a meeting with the buyer to discuss how this happened. The inspector took ownership of missing the polybutylene pipes and explained that he also has limitations as an inspector. The inspector confirmed in multiple locations there was not polybutylene (under sinks, at the hot water heater, etc), but that if additional items under a kitchen sink were visually blocking his ability to see a polybutylene pipe, or if something was painted over or hidden behind a wall, he would have missed that. 

It’s important to know whether or not your inspector is reputable, reachable and insured. This inspector is all of those things and offered a solution to make a claim against his insurance policy since he clearly had an error and omission. The inspector quickly provided his insurance provider so the buyer could make a claim and everyone breathed a sigh of relief that the buyer wouldn’t have to come out of pocket to fix the pipes, no one was going to be sued and everyone was calm and amicable. We all agreed that human errors can happen and everyone took a solution oriented posture instead of an angry and defensive one. 

Remember, things like this can and do happen. As a result, inspectors typically have buyer’s sign something that states, the inspection is as of the date of inspection, something could happen after the inspection (a leak, a system failure, etc) and that inspectors can’t see behind walls. However, if an item is truly missed like in this situation, I think the way this handled is an excellent example of how accountability and a solution oriented inspector can still make this a positive experience for everyone involved. 

Has anything like this ever happened to you? What was the result?