Dear Barry,

We recently purchased a 50-year-old home, and no one mentioned the 2-prong, ungrounded outlets. The sellers didn’t disclose them, and our home inspector didn’t list them in his report. Shouldn’t the sellers have upgraded these outlets to current code requirements before they sold the property? Shouldn’t our home inspector have reported this defect? Won’t this be a problem when we eventually sell the home? –Bob

Dear Bob,

Sellers are not required to upgrade old electrical systems when a property is sold. They are merely required to disclose any defects of which they are aware. Since most sellers do not regard the normal characteristics of an older home as defects, it is common for 2-prong electrical outlets to be omitted from a seller’s disclosure statement.

For home inspectors, disclosure expectations are much different than for sellers. Making no comment about ungrounded outlets in an old home is an example of professional negligence. An inspector’s job is not merely to report conditions that require repair, but to disclose all observable conditions that could be of concern to a buyer, especially where safety is involved. Even though these outlets are “legal non-conforming” — having been installed according to code at the time of construction — buyers still need to know that such outlets are substandard. You should have been advised that future upgrade would be beneficial. An important disadvantage of ungrounded outlets is that most surge protection devices on computers are ineffective without grounding.

As a future seller of the property, you will not have to list 2-prong outlets as faulty or defective. However, now that you are more informed about these outlets, it would be prudent to disclose that they are legal but substandard due to the age of the building.

Dear Barry,

I recently added a full bathroom in my home by combining two walk-in closets. This was done without a building permit, but a good friend who is a licensed electrician performed all of the construction. Soon, I plan to list the house for sale and am wondering what questions buyers may raise about the new bathroom. What is your advice in this regard? –Shumei

Dear Shumei,

A question very likely to arise when you sell your home is “Do you have a building permit for the bathroom?” If there was no permit, buyers will wonder if the work was properly done, regardless of assurances from your electrician friend. Although he may be qualified to perform expert electrical work, what about the various other aspects of the construction — particularly the plumbing. Are the drains vented through the roof? Are the traps properly configured? And how about room ventilation? Is there an openable window or an exhaust fan?

These are among the various requirements that would have been verified by the municipal building inspector if you had taken out a permit. They are also likely to be considered by the home inspector, once you find a buyer. But regardless of the work quality, a building permit is required by law, and lack of a permit could complicate your sale and engender liability problems in the future. A prudent course of action would be to apply for an as-built permit before you sell the home. A dose of expense and inconvenience now could spare you greater headaches later.

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

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