Buyer surprised by rusty pipes

Posted11/15/2020 6:00 AM

Q: My daughter recently bought a condo. After moving in, she found that the faucets have rust-colored water when they are first turned on. Our plumber says the old steel pipes need replacement, and he estimated $7,000 for the job. The home inspector never disclosed this problem, but our plumber says the sellers could have run the water before the inspection, flushing the rusty water from the lines. Who knows? It just seems the sellers must have been aware of this problem. Shouldn't they have disclosed it?

A: Sellers are required to disclose all known property defects. Rusty water definitely fits that category. It is an observable and unusual condition that would be of concern to most homeowners and homebuyers. Therefore, failure to report it to buyers would violate seller disclosure laws. Because it was not disclosed, your daughter now faces a costly repair burden that should have been resolved before she purchased the property, either by negotiation or by canceling the sale.


The first step in addressing this issue is to notify the sellers and agents regarding your concerns. If the sellers are unwilling to accept responsibility for all or some of the repair costs, a small claims judge might redirect their sense of responsibility. Hopefully, such tactics will not be necessary.

It would also be wise to obtain two more bids from licensed plumbing contractors. Prices for such repairs can vary widely, and the $7,000 bid may be somewhat high. It is also possible that some portions of the water piping may not need replacement.

Q: 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?

A: If your main electrical panel has more than six breakers, the code requires a main shut-off device. The intent of this requirement is to enable quick disconnection of the power in the event of an emergency. Older panels, originally installed with six or fewer breakers, typically do not have a main switch. Many of these panels, however, have been modified with additional breakers, now exceeding total of six, but still with no main shut-off switch. The additional circuits in many such cases were installed by people without sufficient electrical qualifications. Therefore, a full review of your panel by a qualified licensed electrician is advised to ensure electrical safety and legal compliance.

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Unfortunately, many older panels are not designed to enable the installation of a main disconnect switch. Therefore, replacement with a new main service panel may be necessary.

At this point, it should be clear that these are not procedures to be undertaken by a "do-it-yourselfer." Work of this kind requires considerable professional knowledge and expertise. When attempted by handy-folks, the finished product may appear functional but is likely to include fire-safety violations and possible shock hazards.

• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.

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