QDEAR BARRY: My daughter recently bought a condominium. After she moved in, she noticed that rusty water comes from some of the faucets when they are turned on. The warranty people determined that the problem was from deteriorated galvanized steel pipes. They estimated $7,000 to re-pipe the unit. The home inspector didn't disclose this problem, but the sellers could have run the water before the inspection, flushing the rusty water from the lines. Who knows? It just seems that the sellers must have been aware of this condition. Shouldn't they have disclosed it? -- Rebecca
ADEAR REBECCA: Sellers are obligated to disclose significant property defects of which they are aware. Rust-colored water at faucets is an observable and unusual condition that would arouse the interest and concern of most homeowners. Therefore, failure to tell buyers about the condition would constitute a breach of the responsibility to disclose.
As a result, your daughter now faces an expensive repair that should have been resolved before purchasing the property, either by negotiation or by canceling the sale.
The first step in addressing this issue is to notify the sellers and agents of your concerns. If the sellers are unwilling to accept responsibility for a major portion of the repair costs, your daughter might consider suing in small-claims court.
It would also be prudent to obtain two more bids from licensed plumbing contractors. Prices for such repairs can vary widely, and price differences don't always coincide with levels of quality. It's entirely possible that the $7,000 bid is too high. It is also possible that only some portions of the piping warrant replacement.
DEAR BARRY: My circuit breaker box doesn't have a master breaker to shut off the electricity to the house. Is it a good idea to have one installed, and is this a job for a do-it-yourselfer? -- Mike
DEAR MIKE: If your main electric service panel has more than six breakers, the building code requires a main shut-off device. The intent is to allow you to quickly disconnect the power in an emergency.
Older panels, originally installed with six or fewer breakers, typically do not have a main switch. Many of these panels have been modified to include additional breakers but still have no main shut-off. Often the additional circuits in these older panels were installed by unqualified people. A licensed electrician or electrical contractor should check and upgrade the system to ensure that it's safe and legal. Unfortunately, many older panels are not designed for a main disconnect switch. Therefore, they may need to be replaced with a new main panel.
At this point, it should be clear that this isn't a job for a do-it-yourselfer. Work of this kind requires considerable professional knowledge and expertise. When attempted by nonprofessionals, the finished product may appear functional but is likely to include significant fire safety violations and possible shock hazards. Don't try to do this at home.
Barry Stone is a professional home inspector. If you have questions or comments, contact him through his Web site, www.housedetective.com, or send mail to 1776 Jami Lee Ct., Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, Calif. 93401.
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