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Home Inspection: Watch Out For Hidden Defects

09 April 2017 by National Bank
hidden defects

A home is likely the most significant purchase you will make in your life. The more you know before settling on a price and closing the deal, the better. Which is why a home inspection is so important.

Does this precautionary measure protect you against any risk of hidden defects? No, but an inspection before signing an offer to purchase a property will limit the risk, and arm you with information

A professional home inspection is more than a precaution

“A hidden defect is, by definition… hidden,” says Gérald Smith, inspector and president of the National Building Inspectors and Experts Association (NBIEA). This implies that a careful visual examination of the building, during which the inspector determines the physical state of its systems and their components, will not allow them to identify hidden defects.

A competent inspector who is either certified or a member of a relevant professional order is still the person most qualified to find any visible defects and identify signs that indicate the likelihood of hidden defects.

“Hidden defects are latent, the signs aren’t always easy to see… Until the problems start, and then they become very evident,” explains Gérald Smith.

A reputable professional will know what to look for, and how to interpret what they see. Unless you’re a specialist, it’s hard to tell the difference between a harmless crack and a worrying one. Remember, too, that a home inspector has no vested interest in the sale of the home. They are completely neutral, and their evaluations are objective. They’ll present things as they are. What’s more, a reputable inspector won’t hesitate to suggest that you bring in other experts if there’s any doubt, for example to test that the French drain is working properly.

Of course, not every inspector is so meticulous, and the idea of a hidden defect is nuanced. In the event of a legal dispute, the judge will decide whether there were warning signs. Should you have “known”? Should the inspector have “seen”?

Things to look for: The most common hidden defects

Water infiltration is unquestionably enemy number one when it comes to the sneaky ways a home can be damaged. In fact, according to Gérald Smith, four of the five most common hidden defects are related to the presence of unwanted water on the property.

1 Water infiltration in the basement.

“If the basement is humid, if you can see mildew or water damage… Water is infiltrating the house,” describes Gérald Smith. The causes are varied, ranging from a lack of waterproofing in the foundation, to landscaping that doesn’t comply with standards. Letting water into the house weakens the integrity of the residence, and could affect the health of its occupants.

2 A foundation in poor condition.

Cracks in the concrete of a foundation are practically inevitable in the long term. However if they extend past the outside walls or down into the ground, they should be considered “serious” and heralds of problems to come, as this indicates that water will be able to infiltrate. If you notice efflorescence, meaning whitish crystalline deposits at the base of the walls, you’re dealing with a definite humidity problem.

3 Weatherproofing issues with the roof.

Water can also get in through the roof, either as a result of a construction defect or a lack of maintenance that leaves the house inadequately protected from bad weather. The extent of the damage depends on the number of episodes of infiltration. Even if the seller claims to have “fixed” the problem, you would be wise to have the quality of the work looked at by a professional. Far worse than streaks in the paint, you need to be looking for rotting in the structural elements of the roof, and the loss of insulating properties of the mineral wool.

4 A French drain in poor condition (or no French drain).

French drains only began to be systematically installed in 1954, and it’s only since 1970 that the truly effective plastic models have been used. After 40 years, however, any drain would be starting to show signs of age, and need a cleaning at the very least. A poorly functioning drain is a fast-track to humidity. That’s why you need to find out about the presence and state of this famous drain. Camera inspections can give you a reliable idea of what’s going on.

5 Structural weakness.

Through negligence or ignorance, sometimes renovations are done that weaken the structure of a house. For example, a supporting wall might be taken down without making the appropriate compensations, a basement might be dug out do-it-yourself style, or a second floor might have been added that should never have been built. Are you able to look into the reputation of anyone who did major renovation work on the house?

What to do in case of a hidden defect

The warranty of quality (or warranty against hidden defects) protects buyers in the case of a hidden defect. The OACIQ states that under the warranty of quality, the seller warrants the buyer that the property is free from defects, existing at the time of the sale, which would render it unfit for the use for which it is intended or which would so diminish its usefulness that the buyer would not have bought it or paid so high a price if he had been aware of them.

This clause is part of all real estate transactions, but it may be increased, reduced or even waived (sale without legal warranty) upon agreement between the parties to a transaction.

When faced with a hidden defect, you must immediately advise the original owner in writing. It is then their responsibility to assess the situation (and to involve the appropriate experts), to correct the situation by undertaking repairs, or to reduce the price of the building as a result. Settling without going to trial is usually preferable as it is far less costly.

You may also choose to take action against the building inspector, if you suspect that the hidden defect should have been identified during the home inspection. Doing business with an inspector who is certified or a member of a professional order means they will have good professional insurance, and guarantees that you’ll get what’s owed to you if the inspector is found to be responsible.

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