In May 2016, Fox and her then-husband, Brian Austin Green, purchased a $3.3 million hillside house in Malibu, CA. Soon after, the couple discovered the home harbored serious mold issues. Fox reported she began having chronic health issues, and in her words, the house became a “nightmarish living hell.”
Here’s what’s interesting: the mold issues were all disclosed in seller property disclosures and noted in inspection reports. These were all provided to Fox and Green. Unfortunately, neither reviewed them. What’s more, Fox’s lawyer even advised her against purchasing the property.
Frankly, this story is why home inspections exist. Consider these five takeaways.
#1: Home inspectors have a duty to disclose health hazards found in a home.
Ethically, you have a legal duty to warn your client about hazardous issues you find during an inspection. Mold is a classic example. In Fox’s case, the problems were noted in the inspection report. It would be a different story if they weren’t.
To help make sure you don’t miss a thing during an inspection, it’s a good idea to request a copy of the seller’s property disclosure prior to your appointment. You can get this from your client, who should receive it from their agent. Having the disclosure on-hand tips you off to potential problem areas you’ll want to spend extra time inspecting. This isn’t to say your inspection won’t be thorough. It’s merely knowledge to give you a head start – and extra coverage so you don’t miss something major.
#2: Clients have a duty to read the home inspection report.
Your client should read the inspection report when they receive it. It’s in their best interest, after all. In Fox’s case, this didn’t happen, and it’s unfortunate. While you can’t make a disinterested client read the report, you can educate them on the importance of reading it.
These three things can help nudge them along to review it:
Explain to your client why they should review the report. Before entering into a pre-inspection agreement with your client, explain why it’s important to review the inspection report. Make sure they know this isn’t just a line item to check off during a transaction. It’s intelligence they need to protect themselves from a bad investment.
Stipulate that your client reviews the report in your pre-inspection agreement. Write a clause in your pre-inspection agreement explaining that your client has a duty to read the inspection report. Here’s an example of how one home inspection company incorporated this clause into their agreement.
Follow up with your client after sending your report. Follow up with your client shortly after sending your inspection report. Offer to answer any questions, summarize highlighted findings, and let your client know you’re there to provide additional information.
#3: Toxic mold problems are a big deal and should be remediated.
Mold in a home – especially toxic mold – can trigger health issues for anyone living inside. You can learn more about how mold affects your health here. In Fox’s case, her health problems began months after moving into the home. Ultimately, they caused her to move out and spend $500,000 remediating the issue.
If you find evidence of toxic mold during an inspection, describe your findings in your report. Then, recommend that your client enlist a qualified mold remediation specialist to evaluate the problem and fix it – before moving on to purchase. It’s up to your client whether they negotiate with the seller for repairs, invest in fixing the issue themselves, or walk away from the deal.
#4: Home inspectors should carry insurance just in case.
Sometimes, even when you’ve done everything right as a home inspector, you find yourself in the throes of legal trouble. In Fox’s case, the inspector did everything right, but was still named in the lawsuit.
This is why it’s important to protect yourself, your business, and your livelihood with home inspector insurance. Errors and omissions and general liability insurance manages your risk and safeguards your business in the event of a claim. In some states, you’re required to carry home inspector insurance. But even if you’re not, it’s smart to have.
#5: It pays to get certified as a mold inspector.
All home inspectors should have a working knowledge of how to spot mold issues. During home inspector training, you’ll learn the highlights.
Earning a certification in mold inspection takes your knowledge a step further and gives you more confidence to identify issues and recommend solutions. As a certified mold inspector, your clients will feel more secure choosing you to assess an issue. You can also increase your profit per inspection.
Ashley Roe is a Content Specialist with AHIT and The CE Shop. She writes regularly about home inspection and appraisal. With a reporter's eye and a passion for learning, Ashley stays current on what's happening within each industry. Her goal is to create engaging, relevant, and useful content that both informs and inspires readers.