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posted: 10/19/2012 4:54 AM

Evidence of undisclosed fire raises key issues

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Q. We recently purchased a condo. When the TV cable man was here, he went into the attic and said there was charring and fire damage on some of the beams. It appears that there was a fire in the building, but this was not disclosed by the sellers. We paid cash for the property, so there may not have been a home inspection. What should we do about this?

A. There are three issues here: 1) the matter of seller disclosure; 2) the question of whether there was an inspection; 3) the extent of the fire damage.

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Issue No. 1: If the sellers knew there had been a fire, they should have provided disclosure. Failure to provide that kind of information is illegal in most states. However, the fire may have occurred before the sellers owned the property, so they may not have known about the problem.

Issue No. 2: If a home inspection took place when you bought the home, it would be because you hired the inspector. If you did not hire an inspector, that was a significant mistake, regardless of whether it was a cash sale. Real estate is too expensive to be purchased as a "pig in a poke." A professional evaluation is always essential.

Issue No. 3: Charring of the roof framing may or may not involve significant damage. It is possible that the wood members were blackened without being impaired. You should hire a structural engineer to evaluate the integrity of the framing. If you didn't hire a home inspector before buying the property, now is the time to do that as well.

Q. Our home was built 14 years ago and has two second-story decks over living space. During a storm one deck developed a leak into the room below. Our insurance company hired an engineer. He reported that the decks were not built to code and were not sloped to drain water away from the house. We're making costly changes to provide slope, but it would be nice to know if this was required when the home was built. We're also wondering what we should disclose to buyers when we eventually sell the property.

A. A slope of one-quarter inch per foot was required when the home was built. The contractor apparently did not follow the plans and the code, and the municipal building inspector apparently failed to check this before approving the construction. Unfortunately, it's too late to hold the builder responsible for the consequences of his error. The best solution is to slope the deck surfaces as much as possible, as you are doing, and to flash and seal the deck surface so that leaking will no longer occur.

When you eventually sell the home, disclose the full history of the situation to your buyers. If no further leakage has occurred from now till then, that may help to assure them that the problem has been adequately resolved.

• Email questions to Barry Stone through his website, housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.

Action Coast Publishing

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