Seismic Improvements Are Optional


QUESTION: I am selling my 15-year-old home. My buyer's home inspector recommends seismic safety improvements for the foundation, and the buyer is demanding that I comply with the report.

Since my home was built to code and there have been no settlement problems as verified in the inspection report, am I obligated to make these expensive foundation repairs? If so, what is the extent of the work and how much is it likely to cost?

ANSWER: As a home seller, you must be proactive when it comes to code violations and obvious flaws in the home, but when it involves upgrades or improvements, these are things that fall under the category of "things to negotiate" as opposed to requirements necessary to make the sale.

While this improvement would be a prudent effort on your part to secure the sale as well as better reinforce your home, there is no law that forces a seller to bring an older home into compliance with newer code requirements.

Recently, a growing number of homeowners have improved the reinforcement of their foundation, especially since the most recent catastrophic events in California. Seismic upgrades were found to be very effective in homes that had been reinforced prior to those quakes.

In most cases, effective seismic upgrading consists of four basic steps:

1. Post and beam connections can be reinforced with plywood gussets or T-straps to ensure against separation or displacement.

2. Additional anchor bolts can be installed to provide adequate attachment of the wood sills to the concrete foundation. This is only necessary when the existing bolts do not comply with current building standards.

3. Hold-down brackets can be added to secure "cripple walls" to the anchor bolts. This ensures that the wall studs will not separate from the sill plates when a quake occurs.

4. Plywood sheets, known as shear panels, can be nailed to the "cripple walls" to prevent collapse of those walls when the lateral seismic forces are exerted against the building.

In many homes, the floor joists are installed directly on the sill plates rather than on the "cripple walls." In such cases steps 3 and 4 do not apply. Instead, tie-down brackets can be added to ensure secure attachment of the floor structure.

The average cost for these improvements is about $1,500, but prices may vary greatly depending upon the size and age of the building as well as the type of construction.

Lastly, it is recommended that the specifications for upgrading any building be determined by a licensed structural engineer.

These upgrades are all optional. As a new homeowner, your buyer will be free to make whatever improvements seem desirable after taking possession.

Play It Safe When Dealing With Electricity

Q: I've read in your column that only a licensed electrician should perform electrical repairs. Now that I'm selling my home, I've hired a handyman to make all types of repairs for the buyers, including electrical work. I know that my handyman is competent to make these repairs, and I'd like to know why you disagree.

A: There are most likely some very knowledgeable handymen, fully capable of performing some routine electrical repairs.

However, to allege that a general repairman possesses adequate expertise in the highly complex field of electrical wiring is to minimize the intricacies of that craft.

As a seller, you also need to think about liability. If any electrical problems should arise after the sale of your home, and if it can be shown that you contracted electrical repairs by someone other than a licensed electrician, the legal repercussions could enhance the incomes of at least two attorneys.

My advice is to stick with the experts wherever safety-related repair work is needed.

Fixing Door Problem Is as Easy as 1-2-3

Q: My home is about 50 years old. The problem I have is that many of the doors throughout the house continually swing shut on their own. I am forced to keep them propped open with a brick or doorstop to keep this from happening. Is the house not level?

A: Doors that swing open or closed of their own volition are usually due to a slight degree of leaning at the doorjamb. Here is a simple three-step resolution to the problem of ungovernable doors:

1. Remove the hinge pins and lie them flat on the pavement or other hard surface;

2. Bend the pins slightly by striking them with a hammer.

3. Drive the bent pins firmly back into the hinges. The pressure exerted when the bent pins are forced into the straight hinges will hold a delinquent door in whatever position you choose to place it--open, closed, or slightly ajar.

If this method fails to achieve the intended result, simply bend the pins a little more.


Got a question about any aspect of the home inspection? Send it to Barry Stone, Los Angeles Times, 540 Atascadero Road, Morro Bay, CA 93442. Queries can also be sent via e-mail to:

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