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ASK THE INSPECTOR

If Sellers Won't Tell, Check for Yourself

March 25, 2001|BARRY STONE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: The sellers of the home I'm buying are avoiding disclosure of any defects. They filled out a disclosure statement, as required by law, but listed no problems of any kind.

They must know more than this because the property had a home inspection during a previous escrow and they now refuse to provide a copy of the inspection report.

What should we do?

Answer: Begin by asking yourself whether you'd play cards with a dealer who has a marked or stacked deck.

If the answer is negative, consider looking at other properties. A fundamental truth in real estate is that there is always another good deal around the corner.

If you're determined that this property is "the one," you'll need to ensure full defect disclosure without relying on the questionable ethics of the sellers. This, of course, means hiring your own home inspector, the most thorough and experienced one you can find.

As to the disclosure posture of the sellers, they are legally obligated to divulge all pertinent property information within their possession.

Every defect they are aware of must be reported to you, including information acquired during a previous home inspection.

They don't necessarily have to provide a copy of the inspection report, but all significant conditions listed in that report should be itemized in their disclosure statement.

If you decide to follow through with this purchase, proceed with the utmost caution.

Homeowners Often Not Aware of Type of Wiring

Q: Last year my friend's house burned down because of aluminum electric wires. The people who sold her the home did not disclose that it had this kind of wiring. Are the sellers liable for the fire damage because of this lack of disclosure?

A: Most people are unaware of the specific kinds of electrical hardware installed in their homes. The sellers of your friend's home probably had no idea that their wiring was made of aluminum.

If the buyer, your friend, had hired a home inspector before closing escrow, the presence of aluminum wire and an explanation of the fire hazards inherent with aluminum wire connections would have been disclosed.

The question, therefore, is not one of seller liability but of due diligence on the part of the buyer. In any event, fire damages and reconstruction of the home should be covered by the homeowners insurance policy, not by the sellers.

Clay Soil Could Be Cause of Wall Cracks

Q: We purchased our 1950s home about two years ago, and recently have noticed cracks developing on the interior and exterior plaster walls. Also, the ground appears to be separating from the walls around the sides of the house, and there seem to be some dips in the lawn areas.

Do you have any idea what may be causing this?

A: These symptoms indicate expansive soil on your property and probably throughout your neighborhood. There is a type of clay composition that expands during wet weather and shrinks when it is dry. The result is an annual cycle of lifting and settling of the ground, with resultant cracks in plaster walls and seasonal separation of the soil from the outside walls of the building.

If this were happening to a new home, the primary question would be, "How bad is this condition likely to become in the immediate and not so immediate future?"

Fortunately, you are observing your home in the "distant future," relative to the time of construction. That is to say, the test of time has already been administered. Ground fluctuations have occurred and exerted their influence for 40 to 50 years.

If the cracks in your walls are merely hairline cracks, then that is as large as they are likely to become.

To determine whether this evaluation is correct, have the property checked by a home inspector. If the evidence points to major structural or geological issues, a competent home inspector will recommend further evaluation by a licensed engineer.

Uncovered Plugs Can Pose Hazard

Q: I've worked for a home inspection company for the past two years and now have started my own inspection business.

I feel that all electric outlets and switches should have cover plates on them. My former employer disagrees. He says that cover plates are cosmetic and needn't be included in a home inspection report.

Do you think that uncovered plugs and switches pose a hazard, or is that being too picky?

A: Disclosure of missing electrical cover plates is consistent with your position as a professional consumer advocate.

Outlet and switch covers are installed for safety, not cosmetics. Without cover plates, electrical contacts are fully exposed.

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

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Distributed by Access Media Group.

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