Do I have to bring my house up to code to sell it?

Monday, September 27, 2021

A municipal building inspector verifies that a new house complies with the building code at the time of construction. But codes are all about life-safety issues and are constantly evolving. So there will be things that don’t meet the current code even five years later. That does not automatically mean that you have to do repairs or upgrades to meet the latest codes. 

   Most of the time any necessary repairs are just part of the negotiation between buyer and seller, and an as-is contract can eliminate the need for those annoying repairs most buyers want. But an as-is contract does not protect you from responsibility for any unsafe or defective components in your home that are not readily discernible, but you know about and have not disclosed to the buyer. See our article Should I trust the Seller's Property Disclosure Statement? for more on this.

    And there are more exceptions. Some city and county jurisdictions require an inspection to verify that the home meets basic safety and livability code standards before the sale can close. The city of Minneapolis, for example, has a Truth In Sale of Housing (TISH) inspection that must be passed first. It checks for missing smoke detectors, unsafe wiring, leaking plumbing, and other things like adequate ceiling height and door locks.  

    Also, standard real estate contracts include a clause stating that the homebuyer must be able to get homeowner’s insurance at a reasonable price or can cancel the sales contract. Most insurance companies in Florida want an older house (more than 20 to 30 years old, depending on insurer) to pass a four-point inspection before issuing a policy. The four points are roof, plumbing, electrical, and HVAC. All four must be in good condition and safe to pass the inspection. 

    Examples of items that fail a four-point are leaking plumbing, an ancient water heater, and a roof at the end of its life. Others are components that were deemed code-compliant when installed, but were later found to be unsafe or defective, such as screw-in type fuse panels or polybutylene plumbing. Go to How do I get my home ready for a four point inspection? for more details. Although there are companies that will insure an older home without a four-point inspection, they are prohibitively expensive.

   And finally, wells and septic tanks at homes that are not part of a municipal water and sewer system are often required to be certified to meet health code requirements by the lender or local government.

    If you want to avoid a snag that could hold up or even cancel the closing on the sale of your home, we recommend checking for standards that must be met in your area before closing. An experienced local realtor is a good source for this information. Also, see Is a seller responsible to disclose defects found in a previous home inspection to a new buyer?

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  To learn more strategies for getting the best possible home inspection, here’s a few of our other blog posts:

How can I make sure I don't get screwed on my home inspection? 

How thorough is a home inspector required to be when inspecting a house?

Can I do my own home inspection?

How can homebuyers protect themselves against buying a house over a sinkhole? 

The seller gave me a report from a previous home inspection. Should I use it or get my own inspector? 

If we already looked at the house very carefully, do we still need a home inspection?

    To read about issues related to homes of particular type or one built in a specific decade, visit one of these blog posts:

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1940s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1950s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1960s house?

• What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1970s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1980s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1990s house?

What problems should I look for when buying a country house or rural property? 

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been moved?

What do I need to know about buying a foreclosure? 

What should I look for when buying a former rental house?  

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been vacant or abandoned?

What are the most common problems with older mobile homes?

What should I look for when buying a house that is being "flipped" by an investor seller? 

What do I need to know about a condo inspection?

What are the "Aging In Place" features to look for when buying a retirement home?

   Visit our HOME INSPECTION page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles. 

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