Dear Barry,

We had nearly closed on the purchase of a vacation home when the lender brought the deal to a standstill. They said the gas fireplace is not an adequate heat source and insisted that a new heating system be installed. What’s more, they now require us to hire a home inspector, even though we waived that contingency. A home inspection, we feel, is an optional service, available for our peace of mind, if we so choose. Can lenders simply make these kinds of demands regarding heating and home inspection? – Carmen

Dear Carmen,

The lender’s preference for a more conventional heating system may be overreaching, depending upon whether the gas fireplace meets the minimum standards for a residential heater. According to the International Residential Code, “…every dwelling unit shall be provided with heating facilities capable of maintaining a room temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit at a point 3 feet above the floor and 2 feet from habitable walls in all habitable rooms…” It is unlikely that the lender applied these esoteric standards in determining the adequacy of the gas fireplace. Nevertheless, it is largely their money that is being ventured in this purchase transaction, and therefore, it is their prerogative to set lending standards commensurate with their own investment comfort level, regardless of whether those standards seem reasonable.

As to the mandated home inspection, you should thank the lender for forcing you to take steps to protect your financial interests, as well as theirs. Buying a home without a professional inspection is one of the riskiest gambles any home buyer can make. A qualified home inspector will nearly always disclose defects that could be costly or hazardous. In most cases, the seller can be persuaded to repair some of these conditions. Don’t even consider buying a home without a detailed inspection, regardless of the passive or assertive position of the lender.

Dear Barry,

My daughter is buying her first home, and her home inspector reported some cracks (1/4-inch-wide) in the foundation. How serious could this problem be, and should she cancel the purchase if the sellers are not willing to take care of it? – Michael

Dear Michael,

The standard home inspector recommendation for significant foundation cracks is “further evaluation by a licensed structural engineer” to determine the cause, extent, and prognosis of the problem. In some cases, such as very old homes, 1/4-inch foundation cracks may be regarded as normal and not a cause for concern. In most instances, however, especially where there are accompanying symptoms, such as misaligned doors and windows or cracks in walls, further evaluation is warranted.

Consult your home inspector as to whether an engineering evaluation is recommended, and consider the experiential level of your inspector in determining the reliability of that opinion.

If a structural engineer decides that foundation repairs or upgrades are warranted, the question of proceeding with or canceling the purchase contract can then be considered, and requests for remedial work can then be presented to the sellers.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at


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