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

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I bought a small commercial building about 4 years ago. Recently, I discovered evidence that there was once a fire in the basement. This was never disclosed by the seller. Now the seller says that the tenant in the building had the fire, but the seller provided no details. I have just listed the property for sale and don’t know what I should disclose to buyers. What do you recommend?  Mary

Dear Mary: If the fire was a substantial one, the fire department was probably called, and an insurance claim may have been filed. In that case, the fire department would have an official report of the event. Therefore, you should check with the local fire authorities to see what their records show.  If they have a fire report on file, it may indicate whether the owner of the building was aware of the situation. You should also ask the seller to provide the name and policy number of the insurance company so that you can learn what claims may have been made.

If the fire department and the insurance company were never notified, then the fire may have been small and the damages cosmetic in nature. In that case, you should disclose to future buyers of the property as much as you know about the situation and about your unsuccessful attempts to learn more. You should also hire a professional inspector to evaluate the condition of the property, including the fire evidence in the basement.