Dear Barry,

When we bought our home, the sellers said that everything was functional, which included the central heating and air conditioning system. On the day of our home inspection, the summer temperature was over 90 degrees outside, so the inspector tested the air conditioning but not the heat. Yet his inspection report said that the entire HVAC system was functional. Well, it turned out when winter came that the furnace would not work. The heating contractor we called found several problems, including a cracked heat exchanger. So now the furnace has to be replaced. Who is responsible for footing this cost? –George

Dear George,

The sellers could be liable if the furnace was inoperative or had obvious defects while they owned the property. But that may not be provable. The sellers may in fact have been unaware of any furnace problems, even though it was defective at the time. The home inspector, however, is clearly liable for approving the condition of a furnace without testing it and without recommending further evaluation.

Operating and inspecting a furnace is standard procedure for home inspectors. If an inspector does not operate a heating system because of hot weather or for any other reason, the report should clearly state that the system was not tested. The condition of the furnace should then be regarded as an unresolved issue, and the inspector should recommend further evaluation prior to close of escrow. A home inspector who discloses a system as functional when it has not even been operated is grossly negligent and should be held to account for that professional breach.

You should notify the sellers and the home inspector of this situation and insist that they take some responsibility for replacing your furnace.

Dear Barry,

My landlord has offered to sell me the house I’ve been renting. But the central heating system has broken down, and I’ve just learned that the air ducts are covered with asbestos. My landlord knows about this but refuses to lower the price of the home. What do you think I should do? –Michele

Dear Michele,

Unless the laws in your area require a seller to make such repairs, what you have is a negotiable issue. If the landlord remains firm in his position, you should decide if the property — plus the cost of furnace repair and asbestos removal — is acceptable to you. To help with this decision, get some bids from local contractors who service heating equipment and who handle asbestos removal. Be aware, however, that asbestos duct insulation is not necessarily hazardous or problematic. If the material is intact, it can be encapsulated by overlaying it with fiberglass insulation. The cost of encapsulation is far less than for removing asbestos.

If you decide to purchase the home, be sure to hire a qualified home inspector to conduct a thorough evaluation of the property. In all likelihood, there are other issues that should be addressed and that might be negotiated with the seller. If the heating ducts have asbestos, this is probably a very old home and is likely to have other significant issues.

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


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