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

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.