DEAR BARRY: We are buying a home that was foreclosed by the bank. Our home inspector advised us to hire a roofing contractor, an electrician and air conditioner specialist. The real estate agent for the bank said that we must pay for roof repairs. We agreed to this, but the agent said nothing to the bank about the electrical and air conditioning defects. Neither did he permit us to hire contractors of our own.
To make things worse, a neighbor has informed us that there was an explosion in the air conditioner when the previous owners lived here. We don’t know what to do, and we don’t want to lose our deposit. What do you advise? –Alba
DEAR ALBA: If your home inspector recommended an electrician and an air conditioning specialist, this should have been clearly discussed with your Realtor. After a home inspection, it is customary for buyers to sit down with their agent and consider repair requests for the sellers. Even when banks sell a property "as is," there are times when they make exceptions and agree to pay for repairs.
In evaluating this situation, it is important to know the kinds of electrical and air conditioning problems that were found by your home inspector. Were these major defects, or was the inspector recommending routine maintenance and further evaluation?
If the issues are significant, then someone should follow the inspector’s advice before you close escrow, and the listing agent should not prevent you from hiring contractors to do this. Either you or the bank should hire experts to determine the extent of potential problems.
Don’t let anyone rush you into this deal. Houses are expensive, and you have a right to know as much as possible about the home you are buying.
DEAR BARRY: Our home inspector told us the toilet was loose, so we had it reset by a plumber after we moved in. When the plumber lifted the toilet, he discovered that there are old floor tiles under the linoleum, and he said that they contain asbestos. This worries us and we don’t know what to do about it. The sellers never said a word about asbestos in their disclosure statement. What do you think we should do? –Audrey
DEAR AUDREY: The plumber has no way of knowing whether the floor tiles contain asbestos unless he had a sample of the material tested by a laboratory. If the tiles measure 9 inches square, they most likely do contain asbestos, but that type of asbestos is not regarded as a significant health hazard because it is nonfriable material. Friable asbestos is material that is easily crumbled and can readily release fibers into the air. Besides this, the floor tiles are entirely encapsulated by the top layer of flooring and are not in contact with the air in your home.
In all likelihood, the previous owners were unaware of tiles under the flooring or that the tiles might contain asbestos, which would account for their lack of disclosure.
If you do any remodeling that involves removal of old flooring, you should send a sample of the tiles to an asbestos lab. If the material is determined to contain asbestos fibers, you can hire an asbestos contractor to have it removed. Otherwise, you can leave the tiles where they are without worry.