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Aluminum wiring makes condo a risky purchase

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DEAR BARRY: The condo that I’m buying has aluminum wiring. According to my home inspector, this is a fire hazard. But he says that correcting the problem in the unit I’m buying doesn’t eliminate the issue entirely because the adjoining condos also have aluminum wires, and a fire in one of those dwellings could spread to my unit as well. What he says makes sense, but I’m not sure what to do about it. What do you recommend? –Regina

DEAR REGINA: You have a wise home inspector. Aluminum wiring in the building should be a matter of concern to everyone who lives on the property or who owns any of the units. The issue should be brought to the attention of the homeowners association (HOA) and to the individual owners of each condo. All owners should be advised to have their wiring upgraded by a licensed electrician.

From the late 1960s through the mid-1970s, aluminum wiring was commonly used for 110-volt circuits in many homes. Its use was discontinued when loosened connections were found to cause fires. Fortunately, this does not typically require replacement of the wiring. Instead, the aluminum wire ends can be retrofitted with specialized hardware by a licensed electrician who is familiar with aluminum wire issues. The HOA should hire a qualified electrician to evaluate and upgrade the wiring in all of the affected condos.

DEAR BARRY: The masonite siding on our home has become warped and soft. The fact that we have this type of siding was not mentioned by our home inspector five years ago when we bought the property. Since then, we’ve learned that masonite siding was the subject of a class-action lawsuit and that it’s known to be defective. The cost for new siding is more than $10,000.

When we called our home inspector, he said the siding went bad because it wasn’t installed properly. That sounds like an excuse to me. Shouldn’t he be liable for this? And how about the sellers and the agent? Shouldn’t they have said something? –Robin

DEAR ROBIN: Home inspectors who are good at what they do are usually aware of problems inherent with masonite siding, and if they are competent, they point out these issues to their clients. Unfortunately, your inspector failed to make this disclosure. In many cases, masonite siding can last for years without significant deterioration, but the potential for deterioration should have been mentioned in the inspection report.

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If the home inspector disclosed nothing about the masonite siding, he may have missed other problems as well. Therefore, it would be wise to have the home reinspected by a more qualified inspector. This time, do some investigating to find an inspector with many years of experience and a reputation for thoroughness. Call several real estate offices and ask who the most thorough inspector in the area is.

As for the sellers and agent, they were probably unaware of the siding problem or of specific issues involving masonite. Unless there was visible damage or deterioration when you purchased the property, there may be no reason to hold them liable.

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

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