Q: I’m currently in the process of buying a house. The home inspection revealed problems, and then it was discovered that many electrical and plumbing "improvements" were made without permits. The town refuses to issue permits retroactively, because most of the improvements were made by a previous owner and a plan of the actual improvements is not available. So, basically, there will be no official permit or approval of these projects from the town, so this is very bad for the purpose of homeowners insurance. Would you avoid buying this home? Basically, the house is uninsurable if I were honest and open with the insurance company … or I could not tell them there weren’t any permits, and risk not having a loss being covered if it was due to failure of a system upgraded without permits. Any thoughts on this matter would be appreciated. –Steve M.
A: First of all, I’m surprised that the local municipality won’t work with you in this situation. It is in their best interest to make sure the house is safe and meets all current codes, regardless of who owned it previously. That being said, you basically have three options. Which way you go depends a lot on how badly you want to buy this particular house, and how badly the seller wants to sell it.
Option one would be to negotiate an "as-is" price on the home. That means that you are acknowledging the problems and removing any liability for the repairs from the seller. In exchange for that, you should receive a substantial discount off the asking price. Then, you will have to do a new remodeling, obtaining all the necessary permits before you begin. Have a licensed plumbing contractor and a licensed electrical contractor come out and do all the necessary repairs to get the house up to code, and have the city do all the necessary rough and final inspections. That will ensure that the house is safe, and will give you the necessary documentation for the insurance company. You will also need to speak with your insurance company to make sure that you have some type of interim policy in place while the work is going on.
Option two is similar. You and the seller agree on a price, based on the house meeting all current codes. The sellers can then do all the repairs themselves and provide you with the necessary final inspection documentation, or the two of you can agree on an amount to be set aside in escrow — typically 150 percent of the estimated cost of repairs. That money will go to pay for the repairs, done by mutually agreeable contractors, and the balance will be returned to the seller once all the final inspections are complete.
Option three is to walk away. Under no circumstances should you buy the house and attempt to hide the situation from the insurance company!
Q: We just bought a house that’s more than 50 years old, with ceiling tiles in all the rooms. Do these contain asbestos? –Helen D.
A: Ceiling tiles are typically composed primarily of cellulose fibers, but many of the ones manufactured during the time frame when your house was built also contained small amounts of asbestos. The asbestos fibers are well contained within the tiles, and shouldn’t present any problems as long the tiles are in good condition and you don’t plan to alter or remove them.
The only way to be certain if the tiles contain asbestos is to have them tested, which is especially important if you are planning on removing the tiles, or if some are cracked so that the inside of the tile is exposed. The test is quick and inexpensive, and you can check with your state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to get the names of testing laboratories. The lab will give you all the necessary instructions on how to remove a sample for testing, and if the tiles do contain asbestos, the DEQ can provide you with information about how to deal with them.
Incidentally, if the previous owner of the house knew there was asbestos present, he or she had a legal obligation to inform you when you bought the house. If you have the tiles tested and find out they do contain asbestos, then you will also have an obligation to disclose that when the time comes for you to sell.
Q: Do you know of any type of power-assist fans for venting clothes dryers? Ours has to vent 25 feet to the outside wall on the main floor. –Janet O.
A: There is a company called Fantech that makes in-line dryer booster fans, but your best bet would be to talk with a heating and ventilation contractor about sizing and installing one for you. They may have other options as well.
Also, before undertaking the installation, be sure to check with the manufacturer of your clothes dryer to make sure there are no issues with adding a booster fan.
Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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