DEAR BARRY: The home I am buying has been vacant for two years, and the sellers have not been truthful about its condition. Their disclosure statement says the furnace is in perfect working order, and they listed no other defects. Last week, I called the gas company to turn on the service and to light the furnace. They red-tagged the furnace as "inoperable" and said they had previously informed the owners of this problem. They also told the owners that the copper gas piping needs to be replaced. The sellers have now agreed to replace the gas lines, but they want me to replace the furnace at my own expense. What should I do? –Diana

DEAR DIANA: Aside from the debate about who should pay for a new furnace, there is a larger question that involves trust and credibility. The sellers have demonstrated the intent to misrepresent the condition of the home by concealing the fact that the furnace was defective and in need of replacement. This opens the door to additional uncertainties. What other disclosures might they also have withheld? Possibly none, but now you have to wonder.

Another consideration is this: A home is not a legal dwelling unless it has a functional heating system that complies with minimum standards, according to the building code. From that perspective, the sellers ought to pay a qualified contractor to replace the furnace, to make the home a livable dwelling before they sell it.

If the home is a particularly good deal, you might be willing to accept it in as-is condition, without replacement of the furnace as a precondition. That is an investment decision you will have to make. But before you proceed with the transaction, be sure to hire the most qualified and experienced home inspector you can find. The sellers are clearly not providing disclosure. Therefore, you need an advocate who definitely will.

DEAR BARRY: Right now, I am getting my house ready to sell. The warm air registers on the ceiling had mold, so I replaced them and repainted around the openings. But I noticed that there is also mold on the interior surfaces of the air vents. Should I remove this as well? If not, should I disclose the remaining mold to buyers or wait to see if their home inspector discovers it? What is my obligation? –Chris

DEAR CHRIS: When you consider the many lawsuits that have arisen from mold issues in homes, it makes no sense to leave the remaining mold in the heat registers. In all likelihood, the home inspector won’t even look into the duct openings, and that will leave the problem to be discovered after the close of escrow, which could expose you to an expensive lawsuit.

As a seller, you are required to disclose all known defects. That definitely includes mold in the heat registers. My advice is to hire a mold inspector, to get a complete report regarding the presence of mold in your home, and to provide total disclosure to whomever buys your home. Total disclosure is essential. It reduces your financial liability and keeps your conscience clear after the close of escrow. It’s the right thing to do.

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


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