"Deal Killer" Inspection Report? What Maryland, Virginia, and DC Home Sellers and Listing Agents Need to Know

It's every listing agent or home seller's nightmare.  Just weeks or days from closing, the buyer attempts to obtain a release from the purchasing contract and is demanding back their earnest money.  The reason?  Typically, it's an "unacceptable" home inspection report.  If this is your situation, don't be so quick to react or comply, you may have better alternatives...

 Alarmist home inspection report AKA "deal killer"

First, were you honest in representing the home?  "As is" doesn't excuse fraud.  If you failed to properly disclose defects--deliberately hiding or fiegning ignorance of them--then you broke the law, you're patently dishonest, and you got what you deserved.  If you were encouraged to do this by anyone, then you need to stop listening to, or better yet, fire them and get another advisor/representative prior to relisting and, of course, letting your potential swindling victim (AKA current buyer) off the hook.  If you believe the deal can still be salvaged, I suppose you can try that too.

For the rest of you who thought their house was good to go, the deal was in the bag, and are now suffering from this bolt out of the blue, read on.

The number one culprit behind "deal killer" inspection reports is buyer's remorse.  Once ratified, most purchasing contracts leave little options for those with cold feet to back out of a deal.  In these cases, the home inspection contingency may appear as an attractive (sometimes the only) way out of the purchase w/o losing earnest money, etc.  Maybe they've found another home they like better after they made the agreement or they've decided they really want to move elsewhere for any number of reasons--they want out of the contract.  Now, since the buyer is the only one in most contracts that can select and pay for their home inspector, the selection criteria dramatically changes.  If they're looking to get out of a deal, they will typically want someone who is fast and cheap.  Any number of Internet referral sites will bring lowest bidder quotes right to their in-box.  Here's one: A typical lowest bidder referral site.  If they even make a feeble attempt at negotiating, they can likely get someone who doesn't have (or just obtained) the required license and who doesn't mind helping them out.  Once they've got their guy, there is no "mandatory" inspection report criteria.  Sure, there's a code of ethics and the Maryland COMAR requirements, but a report can say just about anything and make mountains out of even the tinest of mole hills.  If, as a seller or listing agent you suspect you're dealing with (or might encounter) this type of situation, what can you do? 

  • Option One: Prevention.  Getting a reputable, licensed home inspector to prepare a report prior to listing is not only an effective marketing tool, but it can identify potential problems that are, or could potentialy become, late in the game deal killers.  It is also a excellent way to mitigate a good deal of the risk of improper disclosure.  Even if the buyer gets an independent inspection following ratification, the probability of there being much daylight between the reports is greatly reduced and the deal remains unthreatened.  Spend the money up front or possibly lose a good deal of money, time, and effort later--your call to make, but we think this is the most sane approach.
  • Option Two: Rebuttal.  MD, WV, and DE require licensure to conduct home inspections; VA recommends but doesn't require board certification; PA and DC have little or no competency requirements.  There essentially is no reciprocity.  If the report's author isn't licensed in Maryland, the practice is illegal and the report is invalid.  Here's the link to research licensure MD DLLR's License Lookup Page and here's a link to the complaint form if you need it MD DLLR REAHI Complaint Forms Site.  If the report author is licensed, or if the property is located in a state that doesn't require licensure, the next course of action is to get a second opinion or inspection.  Having the report reviewed by a building trades or home inspection instructor at your local community college is a good idea, and so is getting a second inspection.  If you haven't a clue of where to find a reputable inspector, we recommend using a home inspector association referral Web site such as INACHI's Home Inspector Referral Site.

Above all, keep a level head and maintain your rationality!  Berating the other side with "as is" statements typically is counterproductive and does nothing to assuage potentially legitimate concerns regarding the property.  Having a building trades contractor or home inspector explain the defect (real or imagined) goes a long way in improving understanding--particularly with first time home buyers who may have become overly fixated on a scary photo or phrase used in their inspection report.  If the defect is legitimate and needs to be fixed, it probably makes sense to offset the sales price to address it.  Even if you refuse, a collapsed deal will require relisting AND statement of the now known and documented defect on the disclosure paperwork.  Failure to do so is dishonest and a violation of the law--just don't do it.  If you do reach an agreement, remember that it ain't over until it's over on closing day.  Good luck!



Primary Causes of Mold in Maryland, DC and Virginia Homes & Rental Property

The mold that ate Annapolis

We've been making an increasing number of mold-related service calls and inspections, and with them come the questions.  "How big of a problem is this?  "What caused it and what can be done to fix it?  "How much longer are we going to live now that we've found "toxic black mold" in our home!?!?"  "Can I sue my landlord?"  "What about the children?!? Won't somebody think of the children?!?!"  My response is usually something along the lines of "it was already here and will remain here long after our lives are etched as a dash mark between two dates."  So, with our current mortality in mind, let's take a deep breath of this killer mold infested air and calm down whilst we discuss a few things.

In the beginning

Around the time that God created the Earth, mold also came into being.  This cuddly fungi has been with us before there was an us and it will likely outlast us too.  That having been said, mold has contributed to some of our great calmities:

  • The mold that has ravaged day old bread and woebegotten cheese since the dawn of time.  bread
  • Penicillin. Sure it was a useful medicine since the 30's, but now we have superbugs--thanks a lot Alexander Fleming! Alexander Fleming


  • The Salem witch trials--few things inspire signs of witchcraft like moldy bread!    witch
  • Famines worldwide due to ruined crops/food stores.
  • Sickness, death, etc. -- quite possibly the basis for the Zombie Apocalypse to come...

Although the CDC and others have summarized mold as aggravating respiratory problems in sensitive individuals, there has yet to be a single documented case of a death caused by "toxic black" or any other type of household mold. The materials sometimes used to treat/clean the mold affected areas though have killed scores of stupid people (for example, chlorine has been used as a weapon of war and it WILL kill you if it is improperly used).

CDC's Mold Home Page

Problem or Symptom?

Mold isn't a problem, it's a fungi.  It's spores are all around us.  Yes, we're surrounded and there's nothing we can do about it!  However, I've learned to make peace with the black death, and you can too.  First, mold isn't lazy, but--from transportation to the essentials of life--it has to rely on other environmental influences to get what it needs to survive and thrive in your home.  We can make this as complicated as we'd like.  For example, I'm frequently asked "what type of mold is this?"... Does it really matter?  It's in the house and we don't want it there.  It's as simple as figuring out why it is homesteading in your basement/attic/crawl space/bathroom/bedroom; fixing what created the attractive environment; and remediating the area.  Mold is simple too.  It just needs moisture, something to eat, and shelter from ultraviolet light.  Find the areas of your home where there's excessive moisture/humidity, organic material, and darkness, and you'll find the mold setting up claim to your living space.  In summary, mold isn't the problem.  It's just establishing itself where moisture shouldn't be.  Find and correct the problem that is bringing the moisture and humidity into the home, or cozy up to your new, very stubborn room mate.  If you try to kill or remediate the mold without correcting the moisture problem, get ready to repeat your efforts sooner rather than later.  It might even come back with a greater vengance than before!

What We're Seeing

  1. Mold in finished/unfinished basements.  The primary causes are external hydrostatic pressure/seepage into foundation walls; lack of ventilation; air temp/humidity imbalances; leaking plumbing fixtures; downspouts w/o proper diverters; and defective sump pump installations.  Finished basements are much harder to diagnose because of the aversion of most homeowners to tearing up flooring/paneling/drywall during the required discovery phase.  The repair expenses can be quite high, but most of the significant damage we're seeing could have been prevented by replacing the sump pump every five years and properly routing stormwater runoff and downspout discharges.
  2. Mold in attics.  The primary causes are inadequate ventilation and roof leaks/water infiltration.  Multiple roof layers, discharging of bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans into the attic; over insulating/covering of vents, poor installations or repairs, and roof penetration flashing deterioration are the most common defects.  A good home inspection will call out these defects for repair/remediation BEFORE mold can establish a foothold.  Once it does, the costs will be much higher.
  3. Interior mold.  The primary causes are HVAC imbalances or inadequate ventilation, condensation, plumbing leaks, water infiltration.  Common areas to find mold include under sinks/showers/tubs; behind toilet water tanks and underneath seating flanges; behind refrigerators with ice makers; behind washers/dishwashers; near water heaters or well pump components.  We've seen all kinds of contributing factors--from DIY installations gone bad to a supply line puncture caused by a tenant hanging a picture on a basement bathroom wall. 



Now What?

  1. Have a licensed inspector or contractor find the problems causing the excessive moisture and humidity in the home.  Once the diagnosis of the problem is done, obtain a proposal for the cost of the repairs.  Please note that I did not say estimate.  Estimates are always free because they are typically "guesstomates" that rarely, if ever, wind up being accurate.  These are often obtained by homeowners seeking the lowest bidder and it frequently backfires AFTER they're committed to using a particular contractor.  To make matters worse, it can result in unbelievable delays and extra charges that ultimately erode any perceived savings the homeowner initially thought they were getting.  An accurate, written proposal should cost a nominal fee because it takes the contractor a good deal of time and effort to prepare.  Additionally, it is a commitment to do the work for a set, agreed upon price within a specific period of time.  It can change due to unforeseen circumstances, but it rarely does.  Most of the time, the proposal fee is applied as a credit to the total invoice if the contractor is selected/hired (be sure to ask).  What about "free" proposals?  All I can say is that you get what you pay for.  If it's free, it didn't cost much in terms of time/effort to prepare and is probably not much better than the "free estimate" that could've been obtained from a legion of unlicensed and licensed amatuers and professionals alike.  Dealing with mold in the home is stressful enough, paying a $100 or so for a professionally prepared repair proposal is one way to get it handled with a whole lot less stress.  A word about referral services.  If it's free to you as a member, that means the "professional" is paying to obtain the referral and "reviews" can be suspect.  You might want to keep that in mind the next time you're tempted to go to Thumbtack, et al to find a firm to do this work.  The best referrals come from others who have had a successful remediation or an established property management company.
  2. Once the problem is fixed, the clean up tasks will depend on the level of severity.  Most of the time, the fix is as easy as following the cleaning tips given on the EPA Web site.  Occassionally, particularly when the mold is present throughout the home, professional remediation services are needed.  You do not need anything more than a MHIC license to perform remediation services in our state.  So, the level of service and performance can vary widely.  We recommend consuting an indoor air quality specialist for a inspection report (many licensed home inspectors can produce this report if they are certified by their association to do so).  Once you have the report, you have the information needed to find the appropriate professionals to do the work.  In many cases, the inspector can also help with referrals and verification of a firm's license and liability insurance status.  A final word on selecting an inspector, make sure they have current Errors and Omissions (E&O) coverage.  This is not a state requirement, but this type of work needs this optional coverage as the general contractor liability coverage most home inspectors have WILL NOT cover losses caused by significant mistakes or errors.

EPA Guide to Mold Removal in the Home

  • For additional peace of mind, have the air sampled/tested following remediation.  The inspector can typically make a professional referral or you can find a firm through research on the Internet.  Make sure they are licensed and insured and ask to see a sample report before making your decision.


Code of Maryland Regulations Governing Standards of Practice and Ethics for Home Inspections

COMAR Title Nine: Home Inspection Standards of Practice as of October 2014

( .03 Limitations and Exclusions.
A. A home inspection performed in accordance with the standards of practice set forth in this chapter:
(1) Is not technically exhaustive; and
(2) May not identify concealed conditions or latent defects.

B. Except as may be required by lawful authority, a home inspector is not required to perform any action or make any determination unless specifically stated in the standards of practice set forth in this chapter.

C. A home inspector is not required to determine any of the following:
(1) Condition of a system or component that is not readily accessible;
(2) Remaining life of any system or component;
(3) Strength, adequacy, effectiveness, or efficiency of any system or component;
(4) Causes of any condition or deficiency;
(5) Methods, materials, or costs of corrections;
(6) Future conditions, including, but not limited to, failure of systems and components;
(7) Suitability of the property for any specialized use;
(8) Property boundary lines or encroachments;
(9) Compliance of the structure with applicable provisions of local ordinances, regulations, or codes;
(10) Market value of the property or its marketability;
(11) Advisability of the purchase of the property;
(12) Indoor air quality or sickness of any building, including, but not limited to, the presence or absence of all manner of biological activity, such as carcinogens, mold, insects, birds, pets, mammals, and other flora and fauna, and their consequent damage, toxicity, odors, waste products, and noxiousness;
(13) Effectiveness of any system installed or methods utilized to control or remove suspected hazardous substances;
(14) Operating costs of a system or component;
(15) Acoustical properties of any system or component; or
(16) Existence of manufacturer's recalls.

D. A home inspector is not required to offer or perform any of the following:
(1) Any act or service contrary to law;
(2) Engineering services;
(3) Work in any trade or any professional service other than home inspection; or
(4) Warranties or guarantees of any kind.

E. A home inspector is not required to operate any system or component that:
(1) Is shut down or otherwise inoperable; or
(2) Does not respond to normal operating controls.

F. A home inspector is not required to enter:
(1) Any area that may be, in the opinion of the home inspector, dangerous to the inspector or other persons or may damage the property or its systems or components; or
(2) Under-floor crawl spaces or attics that are not readily accessible.

G. A home inspector is not required to inspect any of the following:
(1) Underground items, including, but not limited to, underground storage tanks or other underground indications of their presence, whether abandoned or active;
(2) Systems or components that are not installed;
(3) Decorative items;
(4) Systems or components located in areas that cannot be entered in accordance with the standards of practice set forth in this chapter;
(5) Detached structures other than garages and carports;
(6) Common elements or common areas in multiunit housing, such as condominium properties or cooperative housing; or
(7) A common condominium component or system or evaluated condominium reserve accounts.

H. A home inspector is not required to:
(1) Perform any procedure or operation that may be, in the opinion of the inspector, dangerous to the inspector or other persons or damage the property or its systems or components;
(2) Move suspended ceiling tiles, personal property, furniture, equipment, plants, soil, snow, ice, or debris;
(3) Dismantle any system or component, except as explicitly required by the standards of practice set forth in this chapter; or
(4) Include in a written report any information from any source concerning previous:
(a) Property, geological, environmental, or hazardous waste conditions;
(b) Manufacturer recalls or conformance of proper manufacturer's installation of any component or system; or
(c) Information contained in a consumer protection bulletin of publication.

.04 Structural System.

A. A home inspector shall visually inspect the structural system, including the structural components including foundation and framing.

B. Probing.
(1) A home inspector shall probe a representative number of structural components where deterioration is suspected or where clear indications of possible deterioration exist.
(2) Probing is not required:
(a) If it will damage any finished surface; or
(b) Where no deterioration is visible.

C. A home inspector shall describe the structural system, including the:
(1) Foundation, and report the methods used to inspect the under-floor crawl spaces and basements;
(2) Floor structure;
(3) Wall structure;
(4) Ceiling structure; and
(5) Roof structure, and report the methods used to inspect the attic.

D. A home inspector is not required to:
(1) Provide any engineering service; or
(2) Offer an opinion as to the adequacy of any structural system or component.

.05 Exterior.

A. A home inspector shall visually inspect the home exterior, including:
(1) Exterior wall covering, flashing, and trim;
(2) All exterior doors;
(3) Attached decks, balconies, stoops, steps, porches, and their associated railings;
(4) Eaves, soffits, and fascias that are accessible from the ground level;
(5) Vegetation, grading, surface drainage, and retaining walls on the property if any of these may adversely affect the building; and
(6) Walkways, patios, and driveways leading to dwelling entrances.

B. A home inspector shall describe the exterior wall covering.

C. A home inspector is not required to inspect any of the following:
(1) Screening, shutters, awnings, and similar seasonal accessories:
(2) Fences;
(3) Geological, geotechnical, or hydrological conditions;
(4) Recreational facilities;
(5) Outbuildings;
(6) Seawalls, break-walls, and docks; or
(7) Erosion control and earth stabilization measures.

.06 Roof System.

A. A home inspector shall visually inspect a roof system, including:
(1) The roof covering;
(2) Roof drainage systems;
(3) Flashings; and
(4) Skylights, chimneys, and exterior and roof penetrations.

B. A home inspector shall describe the roof covering and report the methods used to inspect the roof.

C. A home inspector is not required to:
(1) Inspect:
(a) Antennae;
(b) Interiors of flues or chimneys that are not readily accessible; or
(c) Other installed accessories;
(2) Walk on or access a roof where it could damage the roof or roofing material or be unsafe for the home inspector;
(3) Remove snow, ice, debris, or other conditions that prohibit the observation of the roof surfaces; or
(4) Determine:
(a) The remaining life expectancy of roof coverings;
(b) The presence or absence of hail damage;
(c) Manufacturer's defects;
(d) Installation methods; or
(e) The number of layers of roofing material.  

 .07 Plumbing System.  

A. A home inspector shall visually inspect the plumbing system, including:   
(1) Interior water supply and distribution systems, including all fixtures and faucets;   
(2) Drain, waste, and vent systems, including all fixtures;   
(3) Water heating equipment;   
(4) Vent systems, flues, and chimneys;   
(5) Fuel storage and fuel distribution systems for the presence of CSST;   
(6) Drainage sumps, sump pumps, and related piping;   
(7) The functional flow of all fixtures and faucets; and   
(8) The functional drainage of all fixtures.   

B. A home inspector shall describe the plumbing system, including:   
(1) Water supply, drain, waste, and vent piping materials:   
(2) Water heating equipment, including the energy source;   
(3) The location of main water and main fuel shut-off valves; and   
(4) The presence of CSST with the recommendation that the bonding of the CSST be reviewed by a licensed master electrician.   

C. A home inspector is not required to:   
(1) Inspect any of the following:   
(a) Clothes washing machine connections;   
(b) Interiors of flues or chimneys that are not readily accessible;   
(c) Wells, well pumps, or water storage related equipment;   
(d) Water conditioning systems;   
(e) Solar water heating systems;   
(f) Fire and lawn sprinkler systems; or   
(g) Private waste disposal systems;   
(2) Determine:   
(a) Whether water supply and waste disposal systems are public or private; or   
(b) The quantity or quality of the water supply; or   
(3) Operate safety valves or shut-off valves.

.08 Electrical Systems.

A. A home inspector shall visually inspect an electrical system, including:
(1) The service drop;
(2) Service entrance conductors, cables, and raceways;
(3) Service equipment and main disconnects;
(4) Service grounding;
(5) Interior components of service panels and subpanels;
(6) Conductors;
(7) Overcurrent protection devices;
(8) A representative number of installed lighting fixtures, switches, and receptacles;
(9) Ground fault and arc fault circuit interrupters; and
(10) The general condition of visible branch circuit conductors that may constitute a hazard to the occupant or the structure by reason of improper use or installation of electrical components.

B. A home inspector shall describe the electrical system, including the:
(1) Amperage and voltage rating of the service;
(2) Location of main disconnect and subpanels; and
(3) Wiring methods.

C. If applicable, a home inspector shall include in a written report the:
(1) Presence of solid conductor aluminum branch circuit wiring;
(2) Absence of smoke detectors; and
(3) Presence of CSST gas piping with the recommendation that the bonding of the CSST be reviewed by a licensed master electrician.

D. A home inspector is not required to:

(1) Inspect:
(a) Remote control devices, unless the device is the only control device;
(b) Alarm systems and components;
(c) Low voltage wiring systems and components;
(d) Ancillary wiring, systems, and components that are not a part of the primary electrical power distribution system; or
(e) the existing bonding method for CSST; or
(2) Measure amperage, voltage, or impedance.

.09 Heating System.

A. A home inspector shall visually inspect:
(1) Installed heating equipment;
(2) Vent systems, flues, and chimneys; and
(3) Heating distribution.

B. A home inspector shall describe energy sources and heating methods by distinguishing characteristics and means of distribution.

C. A home inspector is not required to:
(1) Inspect:
(a) Flue or chimney interiors that are not readily accessible;
(b) Heat exchangers;
(c) Humidifiers or dehumidifiers;
(d) Electronic air filters; or
(e) Solar space heating systems; or
(2) Determine the adequacy of the heat system or the distribution balance.

.10 Air-Conditioning System.

A. A home inspector shall inspect the installed central and through-wall cooling equipment.

B. A home inspector shall describe energy sources and cooling methods by distinguishing characteristics and means of distribution.

C. A home inspector is not required to:
(1) Inspect electronic air filters; or
(2) Determine the adequacy of the cooling system or the distribution balance.

.11 Interior.

A. A home inspector shall visually inspect:
(1) Walls, ceilings, and floors;
(2) Steps, stairways, and railings;
(3) Countertops and a representative number of installed cabinets;
(4) A representative number of doors and windows; and
(5) Garage doors and garage door operators.

B. A home inspector is not required to inspect:
(1) Paint, wallpaper, and other finish treatments;
(2) Carpeting;
(3) Window treatments;
(4) Central vacuum systems;
(5) Household appliances; or
(6) Recreational facilities.

.12 Insulation and Ventilation.

A. A home inspector shall visually inspect:
(1) Insulation and vapor retarders in unfinished spaces;
(2) Ventilation of attics and foundation areas; and
(3) Mechanical ventilation systems.

B. A home inspector shall describe:
(1) Insulation and vapor retarders in unfinished spaces; and
(2) If applicable, the absence of insulation in unfinished spaces at conditioned surfaces.

C. A home inspector is not required to:
(1) Disturb insulation or vapor retarders; or
(2) Determine indoor air quality.

.13 Fireplaces and Solid Fuel Burning Appliances.

A. A home inspector shall visually inspect:
(1) System components of fireplaces and solid fuel burning appliances; and
(2) Vent systems, flues, and chimneys.

B. A home inspector shall describe:
(1) Fireplaces and solid fuel burning appliances; and
(2) Chimneys.

C. A home inspector is not required to:
(1) Inspect any of the following:
(a) Interiors of flues or chimneys:
(b) Firescreens and doors;
(c) Seals and gaskets;
(d) Automatic fuel feed devices;
(e) Mantles and fireplace surrounds;
(f) Combustion make-up air devices; or
(g) Gravity-controlled and fan-assisted heat distribution assists;
(2) Ignite or extinguish fires;
(3) Determine draft characteristics; or
(4) Move fireplace inserts or stove or firebox contents.

Maryland Landlords Increase Financial Risk When Neglecting Warranty of Habitability Responsibilities

Baltimore and other Maryland landlords have the responsibility to maintain residential rental property and repair any defects or problems. Under Maryland law, there is an implied warranty of habitability; that is, a landlord not only must deliver residential rental property to the tenant in a habitable condition, but s/he remains responsible for maintaining the property in a habitable condition during the term of the lease.

"Habitability" is typically defined in local housing codes. It is usually defined as the minimum standard for decent, safe, sanitary housing suitable for residential purposes.

Most communities have local housing codes. The codes are local ordinances or laws that require owners of real property, including landlords, to maintain the property and make any necessary repairs. These codes typically require that any residential rental property offered by a landlord must meet the minimum standards established in the code. The landlord's responsibility is not only to deliver the rental property to the tenant in compliance with the housing codes but also to maintain compliance with the housing codes throughout the term that the tenant has use and possession of the rental property.  

Deferred maintenance or property neglect?  Some tenants will leverage maintenance issues in an attempt to extort concessions from a landlord and some will attempt to withold payment of rent.  In cases of dispute or possible future litigation, a landlord's best defense is to consult a licensed home or rental property inspector for a written report of the unit's condition and recommendations for repairs or remediation.  Once acted upon, the legal basis for a tenant's complaint can be significantly reduced or eliminated altogether.  The table below is a synopsis of the relevant COMAR.



Maryland Code, Real Property, §8-211


The Landlord must repair and eliminate conditions and defects which constitute, or if not promptly corrected will constitute, a fire hazard or a serious and substantial threat to the life, health or safety of occupants, including, but not limited to:

·          Lack of heat, light, electricity, or hot or cold running water, except where the tenant is responsible for the payment of the utilities and the lack thereof is the direct result of the tenant's failure to pay the charges

·          Lack of adequate sewage disposal facilities

·          Infestation of rodents in two or more dwelling units

·          The existence of any structural defect which presents a serious and substantial threat to the physical safety of the occupants

·          The existence of any condition which presents a health or fire hazard to the dwelling unit

Remedy for breach

If the tenant gives notice of the condition to the landlord and a reasonable time to repair, rebuttably presumed to be 30 days, and the landlord fails to repair, then the tenant may initiate a rent escrow, pay the rent into court while suing the landlord, and take other actions and obtain other forms of relief.  See §8-211(j) and following.


BNI’s Landlord Introduction Packet









Quick Quote