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Home inspectors recount on-the-job horrors, when sellers try to hide the damage

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John Tomac for The Boston Globe 

“Human beings are generally honest,’’ said Nick Gromicko of the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, “but when they sell their house, the worst comes out in them.’’

Gromicko founded InterNACHI, an organization for residential and commercial inspectors to receive professional training, benefits, and certification.

He has seen his fair share of sellers trying to pull a fast one on buyers.

Sometimes there’s an expensive-to-fix defect that could jeopardize a sale, and the seller tries to find a “sneaky’’ way to cover it up.

“Most of the time defects are overly obvious,’’ Gromicko said.

But that doesn’t stop people from trying. They paint over walls or cover floors that have water damage.

Odds are, however, that the inspector will find it ­— that’s if you don’t waive the home inspection in order win a bidding war.

James Brock, owner of Boston Home Inspectors and a state-licensed inspector himself, said there are warning signs. “You walk in and something looks out of place,’’ Brock said. “[It does] not look like how someone would normally live.’’

Say, for example, only one wall in a room has been freshly painted. “You walk in and there are cobwebs on three of the walls,’’ he said. “You go over to the window [on the fourth wall], and there is no dust.’’

Why?

The seller probably was trying to cover up ice-dam damage, he said.

In a Quincy home he inspected a couple of months ago, “Everything was piled in one corner of the garage,’’ he said. “That’s not how people store things.’’

Brock said it was obvious the owner was hiding something, so he moved the ladders and the boxes ­­— and found termite damage.

Sometimes sellers just outright lie. One, who lived in a three-family, told him his boiler was the newest in the building. Nope. Brock traced the gas line to the meter and into the home. It was the neighbor’s.

Smells are another thing sellers try to hide.

Brock said he knows something’s up when he walks into the unit and all of the windows are open, there are air fresheners in every socket, and candles lighted in every room. He blows out the candles, unplugs the air fresheners, and closes the windows, he said. “I’ll come back in three days, and then I will write the report.’’

Brock has seen so much in his days as an inspector that he documents it all on a popular Instagram account (www.instagram.com/bostonhomeinspectors), showcasing some of his craziest experiences, including finding a Jenga-like setup of wood blocks used to shore up a foundation.

But not all sellers are trying to hide something; sometimes it’s just bad luck.

“I had one where the seller said, ‘I replaced my water heater,’ ’’ Brock said, recalling it was a unit in a two-family home. Turns out the seller’s heater was 12 years old. The seller insisted it was new, however, and gave him the receipt, showing that it had been purchased very recently.

“The plumber changed the wrong water heater,’’ Brock said.

Flipped houses are of particular concern, according to some of the inspectors we interviewed.

“We know when it’s a flip we have to work harder to discover the things that have been intentionally covered up,’’ said Mark Raumikaitis of HomeCheck Professional Home Inspections in Southern New Hampshire. The buyers “see new paint, new countertops, new granite, new carpet, and it looks beautiful from that initial impression.’’

But take a closer look.

“The stuff that’s underneath is where the flippers don’t put the money,’’ Raumikaitis said. “Many times the houses are not upgraded. We could have obsolete insulation in the attic. We could have rotten wood in the basement.’’

Gromicko said flipped homes are in a whole other category of inspection for him.

“If you have a house that’s been remodeled by a flipper, you don’t know what was there before,’’ Gromicko said. “If you buy it from an older couple that has lived there for 20 years, you can be more sure it wasn’t a meth house.’’

It is easy for home buyers to be attracted to flashy flipped homes.

“The buyers are disappointed sometimes,’’ Raumikaitis said. “[They] go to a house with a new paint job, and everything looks beautiful. Then the grumpy old home inspector shows up and goes beyond paint and granite countertops and finds issues that are significant.’’

Raumikaitis and other home inspectors cautioned that in this crazy Boston seller’s market, buyers are tempted to skip the home inspection to make their offer look more attractive.

“What’s a showing?’’ Raumikaitis said. “You are there for five to ten minutes, and if you don’t put your offer in, you might not get a chance to take a second look.’’

But there could be plenty hidden under new paint, new carpets, and that new kitchen.

“Buyers are skipping home inspections,’’ Brock said. “That’s going to hurt some people down the line.’’

Megan Turchi can be reached at megan.turchi@globe.com. Subscribe to our newsletter at pages.email.bostonglobe.com/AddressSignUp.