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Today’s PHW Inspections Topic: Concealed Defects
Cornell’s Legal Information Institute (LII) defines a latent, hidden, or concealed defect as “one which could not be discovered by reasonable and customary observation or inspection.” These defects might have been painted over, covered with furniture and other belongings, or tucked away in hard-to-reach spaces.
Because they’re hidden, they may appear months or even years after your clients move in. And considering home inspections are visual and non-invasive in scope—and because you don’t have x-ray vision—you wouldn’t have seen or reported them to begin with. Nevertheless, clients who aren’t familiar with a home inspector’s limitations may assign the blame to you.
Common concealed defects include:
Plumbing Problems: According to Brad McLeese of HomeGuard Inspections in Utah, plumbing systems are particularly tricky because most of the pipes, junctions, and connections aren’t visible. As such, you may be unable to properly identify all the plumbing materials or see corrosion and other damages.
Electrical Deficiencies: Wiring often lurks behind insulation, walls, and other obstructions. For this reason, it may be impossible to identify all the wiring throughout the house. Not to mention, it also presents an additional risk, since speculating the wiring’s type and condition in visually inaccessible areas exceeds many standards of practice (SOPs).
Foundation and Structural Defects: Finished surfaces, such as drywall, often hide the existence of structural deficiencies within wall systems. Furthermore, owners typically patch holes, fix loose tape seams, hammer in nail pops, and add a fresh coat of paint to prepare their properties for sale. Such preparations can temporarily mask evidence of foundation and structural deficiencies.
Mold: In many claims, clients discover mold during renovations or repairs. Perhaps it’s in the HVAC system. Maybe it’s growing inside the walls. It typically accumulates in obscured places and cannot be confirmed without a test, McLeese said.
Pests: Pests, particularly termites, often live inside walls or deep inside wood structures. And, because pests move, they aren’t always visible during inspections, said Travis Hill of Premier Inspections in Texas in our past article.
Windows: For the most part, window claims involve a failure to identify water damage, intrusion, or wood rot around windows. Frequently, home inspectors are unable to identify such defects because the windows have been painted shut or obstructed.
You may not be able to avoid these situations completely. However, knowing how hidden defects present themselves can help you stay informed and mentally prepared for the possibilities.
Concealed Defects and Risky Scenarios
Any property could have defects lurking within its walls. However, some environments may be more subject to hidden problems than others. Call it instinct, a hunch, or just a gut feeling, but home inspectors walk into some homes knowing when to raise their guards. Such risky scenarios include:
Cluttered Homes: While a few personal items here and there aren’t a terrible red flag, too many decorations, furniture pieces, etc. can limit an inspector’s visibility and make areas inaccessible.
Flipped Homes, Highly Remodeled Homes, or Homes with New Additions: Properties that have been “flipped” or recently renovated may present a higher risk of concealed defects. That’s because investors, incentivized to remodel and sell for a quick flip, may prioritize superficial upgrades, take shortcuts, or neglect the most crucial and expensive repairs that cause problems later, said inspectors like Mike Leggett of The BrickKicker of Georgia in our previous article.
Rental Homes: According to Frederick Lawrence of En-Spect in New York, tenants—especially younger tenants who are new to home maintenance—may not know what needs attention or may care less since they aren’t the owners. Meanwhile, some landlords aim to cut costs wherever possible, leading to cheaper, lower quality repairs with shiny finishes.
Homes with Prolonged Vacancies: Homes that have been vacant for a long period of time may have less obvious defects than homes that have been recently lived in, McLeese said. Inspectors lack the current residents’ observations that might help them investigate areas with hidden or latent issues.
Article Courtesy of Inspector Pro Insurance