Prior Fire Damage

Yesterday, while waiting for my clients to arrive at a home(REO), I was speaking with a neighbor who came up to greet me. After talking for a while he mentioned that the prior owner and him were friends and that the owner had the interior of his home rebuilt to look like his after the fire.(FIRE?) I asked when it happened, he said a few years ago, and that it started in the kitchen, and moved through the air ducts.

I am trying to figure out how I should work this into the report, I want to inform the buyer, but I don’t want to assume liability for the repairs made.(Everything looked good, with the exception of some cosmetic damage in the form of a few drywall nails in a closet adjacent to the kitchen showing burn-through marks)

This is what I have so far:
“There is evidence of previous fire damage to the property in the entry closet.(Burn through marks from the nails on the drywall). It is assumed that repairs have been made to to the property, and inasmuch as we do not endorse these repairs, you should verify with the seller that such repairs were made, and request documentation and permits from the sellers regarding the same.”

What do you think?

I would add …

“It could not be determined if serious defects to the structural wall (and flooring if finished over as well) exist behind interior finishes. Fire damage can significantly reduce the load bearing capacity of structural members and it is possible that damaged members were improperly repaired.”

Several times I have uncovered burnt-to-a-crisp floor joists, studs, rafters, posts, etc; as well as mind-numbingly stupid attempts to repair them.

After a fire there may be toxic chemical residue from burning materials in the house
that are in various areas. Water from the fire dept can be conducive to mold, decay,
WDO, and corrosion in electrical fixtures (depending on how long the house stayed
wet and how it was remediated, and how long it was open to the elements).

If wet materials were not removed, and they just did a paint over, then it should be
considered improper repairs. Were any mold issues addressed? Where their any
partially burnt wires or fixtures that cannot be seen now? Is there a dormant smell
that is being covered with deodorizers. Has the inside of the HVAC system and
ducts been filled with smoke residue and burning chemicals residue? Insulation defects?
Plumbing damage?.. Structural issues…? ETC…

Is there any documentation of repairs? Any warranty? Were they permitted
and licensed? ETC…

You need to let the client know you do not have x-ray vision and there are
some issues that you cannot verify with a visual inspection.

These “alleged” events are important to document and can easily be verified with local FD.

I, as most others do, have a section of who attended/was present during the inspection. If you don’t I advise you start doing this today.

I get names and include their “quotes” in all reports.

I either see document-able evidence of the “event” or don’t. The rest is up to client to verify the allegations of neighbors/postal-person/yard or pool person(s)/owners/owner’s agent or kids…

I’ve done my part by documenting what occurred and was present during the inspection…

If the info wasn’t disclosed there’s trouble in paradise


Good advice…often there is nothing to see but the statements quoted in my report.

Don’t home inspectors generally use a disclosure statement in their reports regarding the information contained in the report doesn’t define the indoor air (or environmental) quality and, as someone said earlier, ‘I don’t have x ray vision’ clause? I only handle indoor environmental consulting, not general home inspections, so I’m just curious.

I see you’re here in CA (very near to me, I might add) so I’ve got two comments;

  1. You should never assume anything. Make your notes consistent with what you’ve discovered and/or observed. A better statement would be something like - “It appears that repairs have been made, although we cannot determine the extent of the repairs.”

  2. You stated that this is an REO, which means that the bank has acquired the property through foreclosure. In such cases, there will be no disclosure from the “sellers.” Further, there will be no disclosures from the previous owners.

Your statement gives the client misdirection by asserting that they have the option to obtain documentation and/or information on the cause, condition and remediation.

If you (anyone) are doing REO inspections, you should seriously consider changing the language in your reporting, and include disclaimers for these types of properties.

For REO’s, I do not state - “ask the sellers.” Instead, I will say "You should consult a qualified contractor to determine. . . "

I have also changed the statement of *“before the close of escrow,” *to *“during your inspection contingency period.” *REO’s generally have a limited window for inspections during the escrow period.

My attorneys have prepared a narrative for me that addresses the differences between REO’s and typical sales. Laws are different in each state, so I would suggest you consult a Real Estate Attorney to make a “state-specific” disclaimer.

David - shoot me an email and I will give you the narrative from my attorneys.