After Home Inspection questions

snakedocApril 7, 2010

We had our home inspection today and a few things came up that I would like opinions on. We are not trying to be greedy but wonder what should be expected to be done or not.

1. Boiler is very old (60+ years) and a converted oil to gas. The sellers currently rent the conversion burner (this was not disclosed). The home inspector warned that it could go anytime. My question is should we expect that the burner is part of the house? Or is the fact that it is rented inconsequential? I am a little bummed that I will soon-enough need to replace a $5000+ boiler and a hot water heater.

Other findings: some termite damage, rotted window, 2 sides of garage falling apart.

We are definitely going to ask that the house be treated for termites and the window replaced. Other than that, do we have any reasonable right to ask for anything regarding the heating system? I'm already assuming we will eat the garage expenses.


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Unless otherwise specified in your purchase contract, the sellers do not have to agree to do anything...other than the termite treatment, as this is required by most if not all lenders.

That said, if the boiler is 60+ years old, the house must be at least that old as well...that said, it is not clear as to why you assumed that the boiler wasn't as old as the house.

As far as the rented conversion burner goes, your lawyer is the best person to answer that question.

Word of advice... if you have not already done so, find out if the property ever had an underground oil tank, as chances are high that it did at some point.

If so, ask for all of the paper work documenting that it properly decommissioned when they converted from oil to gas...and ask if the soil was tested for leaks. If not, have the property scanned for an abandoned oil tank, and have the soil tested for leaks (if they allow it), as the last thing you want to do is buy a property with a leaking oil tank, as clean up can go into the hundreds of thousands and more if the oil has spread to other properties. Oil tank leaks are not covered by homeowners insurance.

Be aware that some places (such as Nassau County NY) do NOT require the soil to be tested for leaks when a tank is decommissioned....and sellers are not required to allow a buyer to have it tested. Bizarre...but true.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2010 at 12:35AM
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Somewhere along the line the building inspection step morphed from a contingency that allowed the buyer to withdraw his offer and get any deposit returned if issues arose that might cost more than stated amount of money.

In some areas of the country the inspection happens before any contract and price agreement is signed, or deposit exchanged, which sounds sensible except that it puts the buyer at risk of paying for inspections without having a contractual price agreed upon.

Anyway, at some point the whole inspection thing began to become a punch list that buyers presented to sellers with demands to do, or lose the contract. Your seller is probably not obliged to do any of the things your inspector listed (except maybe termite work, if required by law or lenders), and may be perfectly within his rights to return any earnest money and send you on your way. Buying an existing residence is not like buying new from a builder where there could be a pre-occupancy to-do list that would naturally include any unfinished or sub-par items because the expectation with a new house is that it is in complete and perfect condition.

Aside from termites, I think your best negotiating point is regarding the rented boiler component. One expects, at least I would, that all parts of the heating system, being completely attached to the structure, would at least convey free and clear, albeit in whatever functional state it may be. Is it possible the seller doesn't realize the boiler is only rented? Is it possible your inspector is mistaken and the part was perhaps previously rented, but since been purchased outright?

At any rate that's where I think your best hope for some price concession from the seller might come. This is something that all buyers will run into and the seller will be faced with the same demands by any well-informed buyer so they might as well bite the bullet and deal with it now, with you.

This is different than, say, the garage walls since that may not be as critical and some buyers might not care, anyway. But the heating plant, that's pretty central, and may also be demanded by your lender.

It's unlikely you'll get a new boiler out of the deal. And maybe what you'd prefer might not be what the seller would install as a replacement (fuel type, capacity, etc.) And if forced to do so, the seller might choose the cheapest model around. So perhaps you could come to some arrangement that would credit you (by reducing the purchase price, for instance) with some portion of the cost of a new, owned boiler, rather than saddle you with a leased boiler deal. A reduced price has financing implications for you, so do some research before you make a proposal, into that and what new furnaces/boilers cost.

Some sellers (for strategic reasons) won't cooperate with extensive searches for possible problems on the grounds that once they know about them then they will be obliged to fix them. This is particularly true with any posible soil contamination from leaking petroleum storage tanks. But remember the law is such that it doesn't really matter which owner's tanks did the leaking, it's the owner of record when the leak is discovered that's in the hot seat. FWIW, many residential tanks were in the cellar and not buried, so it may not be a concern.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2010 at 3:17AM
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Thanks for the replies.

Sure, we expected an older boiler. The conversion burner itself is way past its life expectancy and is rented. We first learned it was rented when we did the inspection and the owners left us a note telling us it was. This was the first we learned of it. I would expect that, unless noted earlier, it was included in the property.

I do not expect to get a new boiler out of the deal, nor am I trying to squeeze every last bit of money out of these people. I am only trying to figure out what should and should not be expected and proceed from there.

This also will not be a deal breaker on our end, but it is a pretty shot to the gut since we're looking at at least 6k in work.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2010 at 10:51AM
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Also, any idea what tome period they were or were not burying tanks? This house is from 1900, but who knows if one was buried between now and then. That box was checked "unknown" on the seller's statement.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2010 at 11:27AM
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As far as I know, oil tanks were routinely buried up until the 80's or so, maybe earlier or later.

However, that does not mean that EVERY oil tank was buried...only that with an older home, the likelihood is very high.

Did the present owner convert to gas from oil? If so, there is no way that they don't know where the oil tank was when they used to get oil delivery.

If it was the previous owner, check with the town/city etc to see if they have anything on file about when the conversion took place, and if the oil tank was decommissioned.

The gas company should be able to tell you when the house started getting service..unless it was a very long time ago...and in that case it is a pretty sure bet that there is an abandoned oil tank because years back there were few if any regs about removal or decommissioning.

Or the town may at least have the name of the company that did the conversion if permits were needed and/or obtained. if that company is still around you can check with them for more info.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2010 at 12:02PM
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Logic, sounds like we're both from nassau county.

Although buried is definately an option as far as I've seen a lot of oil tanks are in the basement and not just a newly replaced tank, my parents replaced their tank 20 years ago, and it was a basement tank they replaced. Although definately possible, I don't think its anything close to a certianty.

as far as your inspection issues, I have a 60 year old boiler, works fine, I wouldn't give you anything for that.

a renter burner sounds very odd to me, I would expect that it would be part of the house.

basically things that are big surprises should be negotiated, things that you already knew about, should not. if the garage looked like it was falling down, I don't think you should get anything for it.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2010 at 12:26PM
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snakedoc ... in western ny, oil tanks are not "routinely buried" like the other poster stated. They are usually in basements. Not sure where you are buying, but ask your realtor whats common for the area.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2010 at 12:38PM
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Great stuff. I am in Mass.--not NY--not sure if I stumbled into a NY forum or not. Either way...

I agree, if it was obvious or disclosed then it should stand. The garage was a little deceiving, but I'll fault myself for not inspecting harder.

The current owners did not do the conversion, I believe, since the conversion burner is from '82 and they have only been there 6 years. But perhaps I can track down if it was done in '82 and what was done.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2010 at 12:46PM
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I once owned a house in western Mass, and which had been converted from oil to gas -- even a rented conversion burner. I no longer remember why, but I had the impression that was the way it was usually done unless and until someone put in a new heating system. Our oil tank was in the basement. Once we took it out, there were still signs that it had been there -- the blocks it stood on and the patched area through the foundation wall where the tank connected to the pipe through which it was filled. There were probably stains, too, from when the tank was broken up and taken out.

Apart from the termites, which the owner should repair, you might bring down your offer some in light of the repairs, especially to the garage, especially if the cost of repair (bad roof? foundation?) goes over the amount you indicated on your contract. The owner can turn that down, of course.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2010 at 1:14PM
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FWIW, my family house (c1850) in the Berkshires (MA) has had oil tanks in the basement since at least the late 1940s, when the heating plant was switched from a coal furnace after the War. It may be that in very cold climates the tanks are inside in the relatively stable temps, especially in a region where houses routinely have basements.

It sounds like the conversion burner may be rented from the gas company as an inducement to switch fuels in an area where previously the predominent fuel was oil?

On the plus side, if the present arrangements hold out for a few years, you'll have time to decide if you want upgrade the heat delivery system or furnace/boiler to a high-effciency one.

I'm curious about your user name: are you a herp or a vet?

    Bookmark   April 9, 2010 at 10:45AM
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"Somewhere along the line the building inspection step morphed from a contingency that allowed the buyer to withdraw his offer and get any deposit returned if issues arose that might cost more than stated amount of money."

Some buyers of existing houses seem to think they are entitled to a house in 'like new' condition.

If they want a new house they should go an buy a new house, and then they can deal with the builder to have defects repaired.

I had a buyer complain that the garbage disposal and refrigerator were not new.

I refused to negotiate with them, they left, and two weeks later the house was sold at $15,000 more, and closed in less than five weeks.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2010 at 4:01PM
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I think most people don't want deals to fall through, so while a buyer could certainly use the results of a negative inspection to invoke an inspection contingency to get his/her deposit back and pull out of the deal, it's usually to both the buyer's and seller's advantage to seek common ground on repairs. I definitely don't think the OP's worry about a rented boiler is trivial or petty.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2010 at 7:48PM
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" I definitely don't think the OP's worry about a rented boiler is trivial or petty"

Is ias not the boiler but the gas conversion burner.

The gas company may have written the thing off by now.

It was probably an inducement to convert to gas, but you need to talk directly with them.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2010 at 10:38AM
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Fair enough. OP, did the inspector provide the minimum $6,000 estimate of what you'll be hit with because of the condition of the heating system? That seems like a non-trivial amount of money for what may be a near-term repair. Perhaps you could ask for some kind of credit from the Seller. You are not threatening to invoke the contingency clause to back out of the deal, so you seem to be acting fairly and reasonably. If your local real estate market is a buyer's market, it may be in the Seller's best interest to meet you half-way and work with you.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2010 at 4:33PM
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polie: "OP, did the inspector provide the minimum $6,000 estimate of what you'll be hit with because of the condition of the heating system?"

Estimating is beyond the scope of a home inspection as home inspectors are not estimators. As such it is not permitted by most if not all states that license the profession.
Any HI who pretends otherwise is a playing the game of jack of all trades, master of none, with the buyer generally being the one who loses.

All estimates for replacement and/or repairs should be obtained from professionals who are qualified to supply realistic estimates, such as those who work in the in the specific field this case, a licensed HVAC tech, or a licensed plumber.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2010 at 5:33PM
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Thanks, OP, but did you in fact get the $6,000 cost estimate from a licensed HVAC tech or a licensed plumber? If not, then maybe getting a sound estimate may be the first step before you approach the seller for any concessions.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2010 at 11:31PM
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Oops, sorry. The response was from someone other than the OP. Nevermind.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2010 at 11:45PM
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The inspector said he can not quote costs. I called several HVAC shops and was quoted between $5-8k. I even called the current gas supplier (the owner of the conversion burner) and they quoted the same.

We went back at the sellers with a need for the termites treated, rotten window replaced (small basement window--probably $30), and asked if they could help with the heating. We were very kind and not pushy in our request. What we got back was: the window replaced and a 1 year home warranty. That's it.

What is really ticking me off is we are giving them concession after concession (in terms of dates and time lines), and they are giving back nothing. They are forcing us to give our final answer even before the radon test come back. Tomorrow is basically D-day where it sinks or swims. Luckily for them we really want the house and are probably going to eat all of it.

I hardly think that I am asking for a new house, BTW. The asking price was pretty high and we offered that exact price because we wanted the house. them everything they ask for.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2010 at 7:24PM
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If the conversion burner is rented is the owner (gas company) not responsible for the upkeep? I assume that you will be paying a rental fee.

Am I missing something?

    Bookmark   April 11, 2010 at 10:41PM
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They are and I will have to pay rent on it. I spoke to them directly and they said that the burner was meant as an introduction for customers to natural gas and that it is way past its expiration date (it is 30 years old!). They also said that they would not offer the option once it finally dies and that I would have to buy my own.

So, sooner or later, it must be done.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2010 at 11:02PM
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Snakedoc, thanks and I genuinely wish you the best of luck. I hope the Sellers appreciate how accomodating you are! In terms of your "BTW" comment, I was also puzzled by some of the reply posts. Nothing in what you posted suggested you were asking for a house in brand new condition and nothing you were asking for from the Sellers was petty. Again, best of luck!

    Bookmark   April 12, 2010 at 9:37AM
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Thanks, Polie. We're at the point where we have given everything we can. It now comes down to a date on the purchasing contract, that if not changed, we must back out. They have given a 3 week window where we are vulnerable should the loan fall through--instead of the typical 1 week window. If they don't agree to remedying that, we will pull out since we cannot risk $15k for 3 weeks.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2010 at 11:02AM
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