Q. Our home was built in 1971. We bought it from the original owners, and because we knew them, we decided not to hire a home inspector. Now we plan to sell the property and are wondering how we should deal with some electrical issues. When we bought the home, it had two-prong outlets. A family member changed these to three-prong outlets so that we could plug in our appliances, but we found out there are no ground wires in the outlet boxes. Do you think this will be a problem when buyers hire a home inspector? And do you think we'll have to rewire the house to provide grounding?
A. Your situation raises more questions than the ones you have asked. The first involves the age of your home. Two-prong outlets with no ground wires were common until 1963. From that time on, grounded three-prong outlets have been the standard. Therefore, your home may be nearly a decade older than you were told when you bought it. The age of a building can be verified by visiting your local building department and requesting the permit history of the property. This is important because you will want to provide accurate disclosure of age when you list the home for sale.
The second question is whether or not the outlets can be grounded without rewiring the home. There is one possibility. The wiring may have been installed in metal pipes known as conduit. If so, the conduits can function as a ground path. Grounding can be checked with a basic outlet tester, available at hardware stores for about $10 to $15. However, to provide accurate disclosure to buyers, you should have the system checked by a licensed electrician.
Regardless of whether the outlets are grounded or are wired in conduit, you are not required as a seller to upgrade the wiring. Your essential obligation is to accurately disclose your knowledge of the electrical system to buyers. And this leads to your question about whether the outlets "will be a problem when buyers hire a home inspector."
Problems you already know about should not be left for some home inspector to discover while you hold your breath in suspense. If you disclose the problem up front, it can become an as-is part of the sale. If the home inspector reveals it to the buyers, it can become an expensive subject of negotiation. Worse still, the buyers could hire an incompetent home inspector who says nothing about the problem. If the buyers were then to learn about it after the close of escrow, you could have a sticky liability issue on your hands.
The best approach when selling a home is to disclose everything you know. Don't wait to see what the home inspector discloses. This is the best way to have a clean, smooth transaction, without repercussions after the sale is completed. If you have the outlets and wiring evaluated by a qualified electrician, you may find that the outlets can be grounded at nominal expense. Then there will be no outlet problem to disclose and no need to sweat the home inspection.
• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.
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