Disclosing fire damage to homebuyers

Are inspector, seller at fault for not revealing issue in attic?

DEAR BARRY: When we bought our home, the inspection report said nothing about damage in the attic. This week, I was in the attic, and one entire wall is scorched wood. What can I do to hold the sellers and the home inspector responsible for not disclosing this damage? –Eric

DEAR ERIC: The sellers may have a plausible excuse for nondisclosure because the fire may have occurred before they owned the property. The home inspector, on the other hand, appears to have been negligent. Inspection of the attic is standard procedure for a home inspector, if the attic space is accessible. Since you are able to enter the attic, accessibility does not appear to have been a problem unless you had a portly home inspector. You should contact the inspector to get an explanation for this undisclosed condition.

Blackened wood from a past fire does not always mean that the wood members are significantly damaged. Therefore, further evaluation of the fire damage is recommended. You should also contact the local authorities to see if a fire report on the property was ever filed.

DEAR BARRY: I live in a split-level house, and the upper area will not stay cool no matter how long I run the air conditioner. On hot days, the unit runs almost all day long. What can I do to fix this problem? –Paul

DEAR PAUL: There are a few possibilities. The first is that the air conditioner is in need of service or repair. To check this, place your hand over one of the air registers to see if the system is producing cold air or simply recirculating the room temperature air. Another possibility is that the unit is undersized for your home. Either of these conditions warrant attention by a licensed heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) contractor. A third possibility is that your attic is poorly vented, insufficiently insulated, or both.

In either case, the house could be gaining heat from the exterior faster than the air conditioning can produce cold air. This could cause the system to run continuously. Again, it is recommended that all of these issues be reviewed by a qualified contractor.

DEAR BARRY: Before we bought our house, our home inspector recommended service and maintenance of the furnace prior to close of escrow. The sellers had someone come out to look at it. According to the real estate agent, the system worked, but no maintenance work was done. After moving in, we tried to turn it on, but it was inoperative. Are the sellers, the real estate agent or the service man responsible now that we have a nonworking furnace? –Mary

DEAR MARY: When the home inspector recommended "service and maintenance," I assume he meant that this should be done by a licensed HVAC contractor. The question is: Who did the service? If it wasn’t a qualified professional, then the agent and sellers are responsible. If it was an HVAC contractor, you should contact that person and find out why the system was working then but is not working now.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.

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