The House Detective: by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector
Dear Barry: The home that I’m buying has been vacant for two years, and the sellers have not been truthful about its condition. Their disclosure statement says the furnace is in perfect working order, and they listed no other defects. Last week, I called the gas company to turn on the service and to light the furnace. They red-tagged the furnace as “inoperable” and said they had previously informed the owners of this problem. They also told the owners that the copper gas piping needs to be replaced. The sellers have now agreed to replace the gas lines, but they want me to replace the furnace at my own expense. What should I do? Diana
Dear Diana: Aside from the debate about who should pay for a new furnace, there is a larger question that involves trust and credibility. The sellers have demonstrated the intent to misrepresent the condition of the home, to conceal the fact that the furnace is defective and in need of replacement. This opens the door to additional uncertainties. What other disclosures might they also have withheld? Possibly none, but now you have to wonder.
Another consideration is this: A home is not a legal dwelling unless it has a functional heating system that complies with minimum standards, according to code. From that perspective, the sellers should pay a qualified contractor to replace the furnace, to make the home a livable dwelling before they sell it.
If the home is a particularly good deal, you might be willing to accept it in as-is condition, without replacement of the furnace as a precondition. That is an investment decision you will have to make. But before you proceed with the transaction, be sure to hire the most qualified and experienced home inspector you can find. The sellers are clearly not providing disclosure. Therefore, you need an advocate who definitely will.