QDEAR BARRY: Our home has polybutylene water pipes, and we're afraid this will prevent us from selling the property. We have never had any plumbing problems, but our neighbors have had several major leaks. Do you recommend replacing polybutylene pipe with copper before selling a home? If not, how will this disclosure affect buyers? -- Jim
ADEAR JIM: The choice to replace or disclose polybutylene pipes when marketing a home involves two concerns: the defect issues with the pipes themselves and the needs of individual home buyers.
Polybutylene plastic pipe was commonly installed during the 1970s and '80s. As you've learned from your neighbors' experience, polybutylene pipe is prone to leaks. This can occur as slow seepage at loose fittings or as major outpouring from broken lines. A water pipe may simply rupture, causing a torrent within a wall or inside the attic. Surprise leaks can attack at any time. Polybutylene can waken you with a collapsing ceiling in the middle of the night or merely cause you to worry about a leak that never happens.
Rarely do sellers pay to re-pipe a house simply for the sake of marketing. For some people, though, this may be a possibility, particularly if real estate sales are slow. Your primary responsibility as a seller is to disclose all known conditions that might concern buyers, including the potential for leaky pipes.
If you choose to re-pipe, that's fine, but remember that many buyers are willing to assume risks that are fully disclosed. Some might insist you re-pipe or ask for a price reduction on the property. Others might withdraw their purchase offer entirely.
However, you might find a buyer who plans to remodel the home anyway, in which case major improvements now would be a wasted investment.
No decision fits all situations. Re-pipe if you prefer, but if not, be sure to fully inform buyers of the risks of polybutylene pipe.
DEAR BARRY: In one of your columns, you discussed the shortcomings of two-prong, ungrounded electrical outlets, common in many older homes. You never mentioned that these outlets can be replaced with modern grounded outlets. They ground to the box, which should be connected to a ground wire. As an alternative, plug adaptors can be used. The grounding wire on the adaptor can be connected to the screw that holds the outlet faceplate. Do you agree with this method? -- Julian
DEAR JULIAN: Old two-prong outlets can be upgraded to three-prong outlets only if a ground wire is already part of the system. In many older systems, the wire contains just two lines, a hot wire and a neutral wire, and there is no ground wire. In homes where three-prong outlets have been added without a ground wire, the receptacles give the impression of being grounded when they are not. Adaptors are of no advantage in such cases. If there is no ground wire, then the screw on the faceplate is not grounded either.
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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