Featuring America's Home Inspector: Nationally Syndicated Columnist, Barry Stone

Requirements for a Legal Bedroom

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I am looking for the legal definition of a bedroom. I bought a house that was listed as a four-bedroom home. Two bedrooms are in the remodeled attic, with short, doorless alcoves for closets. And I’m not sure if these rooms are large enough to qualify as bedrooms. Can you help me to figure this out?  Christine

Dear Christine: Here are the basic requirements for a bedroom:
1)  A bedroom must be at least 70 square feet in area, with no dimension less than 7 feet.
2)  The ceiling must be at least 7 feet high above the finished floor. If the ceiling is sloped, 50% of it can be less than 7 feet, but no part of it should be less than 5 feet.
3)   There must be an openable window for light, ventilation, and fire escape. For light, the window size must be at least 8% of the floor area. For ventilation, the openable portion of the window must be at least 4% of the floor area. For fire escape, the window must be at least 5.7 square feet in area. The opening must have a minimum height of 24 inches, a minimum width of 20 inches, and a maximum sill height of 44 inches. (Note: There are additional window requirements for basement bedrooms, but this was discussed in previous articles.)
4)  Contrary to popular belief, no closet is required in a bedroom.

For Sale By Owner vs. Loyalty to Agent

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: Our Realtor has been showing us listings for several weeks. But last week, we found a for-sale-by-owner property and made an offer to the owner without calling our agent. Since our Realtor spent so much time trying to find a house for us, are we obligated to involve him in this purchase?  Rob

Dear Rob: This type of situation is a sore spot with many real estate professionals. Your Realtor devoted many hours to your search for a home and now will receive nothing for those efforts. Unless you have a contract with him, you are under no obligation. However, most agents feel that the time and effort they spend showing property to a prospective client warrants some loyalty.

The seller in this case is clearly under no obligation to pay a real estate commission, nor is it likely that he would be willing to pay one. So there’s probably no way to involve your Realtor in the current transaction.

The most fair and respectful way to have handled this situation would have been to inform your Realtor of your interest in the property, rather than contacting the seller directly. The Realtor could then have called the seller and said, “I have clients who are interested in your home. Would you be willing to pay a reduced commission if I bring you an offer?” At that point, the seller could have accepted or declined. If he had declined, you would have been free to make your own offer, without misgivings between you and your agent.

At this point, you can choose whether or not to inform your Realtor of the decision you have made. Expressing your concern and extending your apologies would probably be more respectful than to say nothing at all.

Seller Disputes Condition of Fireplace

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I’m having trouble with the seller of the home I am buying. When I first looked at the house, he said the fireplace was in good working order. But my home inspector says there are loose bricks and mortar in the firebox. Now the seller says he never used the fireplace but was told when he bought the house that it worked. When I asked him to fix the loose masonry, he refused because the sale is not contingent on the findings of the home inspector. And he still insists that the fireplace is in working order, even though the home inspector disagrees. Does the seller have to pay to fix the fireplace? And if not, can I get out of the contract even though there wasn’t a contingency on passing inspection?  Kim

Dear Kim: If the purchase contract is not contingent on the findings of the home inspection, then the seller is not required to make repairs, and the condition of the fireplace does not provide an option to cancel the purchase. The seller, however, should stop insisting that the fireplace is in working condition. If he has never used it, and if the bricks and mortar are loose, he obviously has no basis for that claim.

Your choice, then, is to decide if the cost of chimney repair overrides the value of the home. If the property is acceptable to you in all other respects, does a fireplace repair of several hundred or even a few thousand dollars offset its desirability. If so, you may have to forfeit your deposit. Otherwise, you should proceed with the purchase and eventually pay to have the fireplace repaired. But before you decide, hire a fireplace specialist to provide a detailed evaluation, as well as a written bid for necessary repairs.