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

Aftermath of an As-Is Sale

The House Detective: by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:  We just purchased a home “as is.” The previous owner signed a mold disclosure statement that says there is no known mold. After moving in, we found that one entire bathroom wall is rotted with mold, and the roof has mold as well. Isn’t the seller liable for withholding this information?  Klemmy

Dear Klemmy:  Your question raises more than one issue. To begin, sellers are required to disclose all known defects, even when the sale is “as-is.” If the bathroom walls were covered with apparent mold, that should have been disclosed. However, mold does not cause walls to rot. The primary concern with mold is the release of airborne spores that can be harmful to breathe. If the walls seem rotted, there is probably some moisture damage that should also have been disclosed.

Before closing escrow on a property, it is customary for the buyers to do a final walk-through inspection. If you had done this, the defective bathroom wall would probably have been seen. Therefore, you may not have been exercising sufficient due diligence as buyers.

As for mold on the roof, that would be highly unusual and should be confirmed by a qualified mold professional. What you see on the roof may actually be lichen, a combination of algae and fungus that commonly grows on the north sides of trees and the north slopes of roofs. Lichen is not mold and is not known to be harmful to people or to roofs.

The final issue is whether you hired a home inspector as part of your due diligence. Failure to have a professional home inspection is a common mistake among buyers making an as-is purchase. Buying a house as-is means that the seller will not make repairs. It does not mean that you buy the property with blindfolds on: without finding out what you are buying in as-is condition.

If you bought the house without a home inspection, now is the time to find a highly qualified inspector to see what other defects were not disclosed. After you get the inspection report, you can consider whether to hold the seller liable for non-disclosure.

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.

To Permit or Not to Permit

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: What would be the consequences of improving our home without a building permit? The work to be done would include altered plumbing, new siding, new roofing, removing the electric water heater from the outside, installation of a propane water heater on the inside, repairing a sagging ceiling, replacing some windows, and adding an air conditioning system. We’re presently in disagreement as to whether permits are even required for this work and are wondering what we should disclose to buyers when the house is eventually sold. What do you advise? Gaye

Dear Gaye: Your list of proposed improvements and alterations is formidable and, according to the building code, most would require permits. Conducting work of this kind without permits exposes you to legal and financial consequences of several kinds, and these could be magnified by allowing the work to be done by someone who is not a licensed contractor.
If a qualified contractor were to perform the construction without a permit, the majority of the work could be expected to comply with code requirements, even though it would not be legal. But the lack of permits would have to be disclosed to future buyers, and this could significantly affect the marketability of the home. Some buyers would see this situation as a “red flag” and might demand that an as-built permit be obtained from the building department.

With an as-built permit, the municipal inspector could demand removal of drywall to enable inspection of the framing, wiring, plumbing, etc. Costly repairs could be mandated by the inspector, and this might include restoration of the building to its original state.

If a buyer agrees to take the property as-is, even with full disclosure of the nonpermitted work, future discovery of faulty conditions could lead to legal problems, possibly even a lawsuit.

If the proposed work is done by a handyman, rather than a contractor, the likelihood for any or all of the above consequences could be significantly increased. For these reasons, it is strongly recommend that the proposed work be done by licensed contractors and with all of the permits required by law.