Seller Prevents Buyer's Electrical Inspection

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: The house we're buying is for sale by owner, and our offer is contingent on the outcome of a home inspection. My boss is a licensed electrician and has volunteered to do the electrical portion of the inspection. But the seller objects to this and won't even allow him on the property. Does the seller have the right to do this?

Answer: One problem with "for sale by owner" transactions is that they typically involve purely verbal agreements. If a real estate agent represented you, there would be a standard purchase contract with specific clauses listing the types of inspections to which you are entitled. If you are working without a contract, inspections are subject to agreements between you and the seller, unless the laws in your state set standards for pre-purchase inspections. To determine whether you are legally entitled to inspectors of your choice, consult a real estate broker or a real estate attorney in your area.

On the other hand, a separate electrical inspection may not actually be necessary. A fully qualified home inspector should be able to provide adequate evaluation of the electrical system. If defects are found, the inspector can recommend further review and repairs by a licensed electrician. At that point, the seller might be persuaded to admit your boss.

One last thought: To some buyers, a seller's refusal to admit an electrician or other specialist on the property is regarded as a "red flag" warning. It raises questions regarding the willingness to disclose defects. Does the seller have something to hide? Defensive postures of this kind do not encourage confidence.

Pool Heater Must Be Moved to Adhere to Code

Q: I have a double problem with my pool heater. When it stopped working a few months ago, I called my home warranty company. The technician said he couldn't repair it because it's installed under an openable window, and this violates code. When I bought the house 11 years ago, no one disclosed this problem. The heater worked fine all these years, so I thought everything was OK. Now that so much time has passed, do I have any recourse?

A: At this late date, it would be nearly impossible to hold anyone liable for undisclosed defects. When you purchased the home, the seller was probably not even aware of the problem, as such conditions are generally only recognized by construction professionals and building inspectors. Technical safety violations are usually unknown to homeowners. A home inspector would most likely have pointed out this condition when you purchased the property, if you had hired one.

Problems of this kind usually occur when mechanical systems are installed by unqualified people, and all too often, this is the case with pool and spa equipment. Evaluation of pools, spas and related paraphernalia is an indispensable precaution when buying a home.

Now that you're 11 years downstream, the only reasonable option is to bear the expense of relocating the heater.

But don't be discouraged--the cost of moving the fixture may not be that high. All that is needed is to extend the gas and water lines to the nearest location with adequate distance from an openable window. Ask the technician who discovered the problem for a bid on this work.

Groundwater or Plumbing Leakage May Cause Stains

Q: Our vinyl flooring was installed eight years ago, directly over the concrete slab. Since then, stained patches have developed and gradually gotten larger. The worst is at the sliding glass patio door, where the stains are very dark. What could be causing this, and what can we do to prevent similar damage when we install new flooring?

A: Discoloration of sheet vinyl flooring occurs when moisture is present beneath the surface. At the sliding glass door, rainwater has apparently intruded at a poorly sealed threshold. Caulking is probably needed to prevent further leakage.

If vinyl discoloration is occurring in interior portions of your home, the two most likely causes would be groundwater seepage or plumbing leakage within or beneath the concrete slab. To test for a leaking water line, keep all your plumbing fixtures turned off for about half an hour, comparing water meter readings before and after. If the meter dials have advanced while the plumbing fixtures were turned off, a leak is apparent and should be referred to a licensed plumber. If the meter positions remain constant, groundwater is the next suspect.

To evaluate site drainage problems, a geotechnical engineer should be consulted to determine the source of excessive groundwater and the most practical means of mitigation.

Possible solutions might include regrading the ground surfaces around the building, adding roof gutters or installing a subsurface ground draining system (commonly known as a French drain) around your home.

Finally, to help ensure against vinyl discoloration, the slab may need a coat of sealant prior to installing new flooring.

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If you have questions or comments, contact Barry Stone through his Web site at http://www.housedetective.com. Distributed by Access Media Group.

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