The following is excerpted from the Oregon Property Buyer Advisory that was created by the Oregon Realtor® Association and endorsed by the Oregon Real Estate Agency. Your Oregon First agent will provide you with this information, and more, when you first start looking for a home.
PROFESSIONAL HOME INSPECTIONS
Obtaining a professional home inspection is the single most important thing a buyer can do for their protection. A professional home inspection report will provide the buyer with detailed information about the home’s physical condition, its systems and fixtures and usually note any potential future problems. The buyer should carefully review an inspector’s proposal to determine the scope of the inspection. Some home inspectors may not inspect heating and cooling systems, the roof or other systems or components. A home inspection should be done by a home inspector or contractor licensed by the Oregon Construction Contractors Board (CCB). To inspect two or more components (i.e., roof, siding, structural), the home inspector must be certified and either be a licensed construction contractor or work for a licensed construction company. Also, a home inspector is not allowed to perform the repairs within a twelve-month period following the inspection. Buyers can review state home inspector requirements online here. Additional information about inspections and inspectors is available from the Oregon Association of Home Inspectors at: www.oahi.org or the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors at www.nachi.org.
Inspection of property is beyond the scope of expertise of a real estate licensee, but real estate licensees can provide buyers with a list of local inspectors. Licensees ordinarily will not recommend a specific inspector. Before hiring an inspector, the buyer should check with the CCB to determine the inspector’s current license status and whether there are any past or pending claims against the inspector. This can be done by clicking here. Buyers should not rely upon reports done for others (previous buyers and/or sellers), because the report may not be accurate and buyers may have no recourse against an inspector they have not retained.
Most residential sale contracts contain a clause that allows the buyer to withdraw from the agreement if a professional inspection they have done shows defects in the property. You will want to take advantage of this important right by obtaining your own professional home inspection report from a licensed professional inspector within the time frame specified in the sale contract. Unless otherwise provided for in the Sale Agreement, the cost of the inspection will not be refunded should you withdraw from the Agreement.
PEST AND DRY ROT INSPECTION
Pest and dry rot inspections are done in many residential real estate transactions and may be required by the lender. A pest and dry rot inspection may or may not be included in a whole home inspection. If a pest and dry rot inspection is desired or required and the buyer is obtaining a whole home inspection, the buyer should verify that the inspection obtained covers pest and dry rot and the inspector is properly licensed. The license status of home inspectors can be checked here. Pest control operators who do inspections and treatment are licensed by the Oregon Department of Agriculture.
Buyers can check on licensing of pest control operators and applicators by calling the Oregon Department of Agriculture at (503) 986-4635 or online here. Real estate licensees do not have the training or expertise to inspect property for pests or dry rot. Like any property condition report, buyers should not rely on the report of an inspector they did not hire. A pest and dry rot inspection is a limited inspection and is no substitute for a complete whole home inspection by a licensed home inspector.
DEFECTIVE PRODUCTS AND MATERIALS
Some materials used in home construction are, or have been, subject to a recall, class action suit, settlement or litigation. These materials are typically, but not limited to, modern engineered construction materials used for siding, roofing, insulation or other building purposes. It is critical that a buyer carefully review any disclosures or representations of the seller regarding such materials. A real estate licensee may assist the buyer in that review, but inspection of property for defective products, systems, fixtures or materials is beyond the scope of expertise of a real estate licensee. The buyer, therefore, should make certain inspection for such materials is within the scope of any home inspection ordered by the buyer. Like any property condition report, buyers should not rely on the report of an inspector they did not hire.
Similarly, homes may contain products in their systems or fixtures that are, or have been, subject to a recall, class action suit, settlement or litigation. Plumbing, heating and electrical systems, among others, may contain such products. It is critical that a buyer carefully review any disclosures or representations of the seller regarding such products. The buyer should, therefore, make certain inspection for such products is within the scope of any home inspection ordered by the buyer. A real estate licensee can help the buyer find a suitable inspector.
REPAIRS AND REMODELS
Buyers should look for signs of repairs or remodeling when viewing property. If repairs or remodeling have been done, the buyer will want to make certain the work was properly done. Buyers can ask the seller for any invoices or other documentation for the work but, as with other questions of property condition, there is no substitute for professional inspection. A real estate licensee can help the buyer assess the need for a building code compliance inspection but do not themselves have the training or expertise to evaluate building code compliance. Information about building permits can be found here, a service of the Department of Consumer & Business Services Building Codes Division. If building permits were required for work done on the property (such permits are typically required for structural changes, new additions, and new plumbing and electrical work), the buyer should check with the city or county building department to make sure the permits are in order. If permits were not properly obtained, the new property owner could be held responsible. Ask your agent for assistance or you can find the website for the county in which the property is located by clicking here. Websites for cities can be found by clicking here. If repairs or remodels have been completed very recently, the buyer should take steps to determine if there is any possibility of construction liens being filed against the property after the sale has closed. This can be done by the buyer raising the issue with their title insurance provider.
If any repairs are being required during the transaction, the buyer should insure a licensed construction contractor is doing the repairs. After the repairs have been done, the buyer should consider having a re-inspection done to assure the repairs were done properly.
HOMEBUYER PROTECTION ACT
The Homebuyer Protection Act of 2003 requires sellers of certain new and recently remodeled or renovated residential property to provide buyers with protection from unrecorded construction liens. Information about construction liens is available by clicking here. If the buyer is entitled to protection under the Homebuyer Protection Act, the seller must choose one of five statutory protections and provide you with a Notice of Compliance form indicating the protection chosen. A copy of the Notice form and explanation of the Act is available by clicking here.
Real estate licensees are not trained or experienced in construction lien law. If a Notice of Compliance form is part of the transaction, or either party is uncertain about their rights or obligations under the Act, they should seek the advice of an attorney. Real estate licensees cannot interpret legal documents or give legal advice.
SEWER AND SEPTIC SYSTEMS
It is important to determine if the property is connected to a city sewer or if the property is serviced by a septic system. The buyer should always verify the type of sewage system present on the property even if this information is provided in the MLS data sheet or Seller’s Property Disclosure Statement.
Real estate licensees are not licensed to do plumbing or septic inspections. If the property is serviced by a septic system, a septic system inspection should be completed by an approved Onsite Wastewater Inspector. A list of certified Onsite Wastewater Installers and Maintenance Providers, many of whom perform Existing System Evaluations, can be found on the Department of Environmental Quality website http://www.deq.state.or.us/wq/onsite/sdssearch.asp.
If a septic system inspection is completed, be sure to have an “Existing System Evaluation” form completed by the approved Onsite Wastewater Inspector for the buyer’s own records. Additional information can be found at: http://www.oregon.gov/deq/Residential/Pages/Septic-Smart.aspx
It is important to know where the septic system is located, whether or not the system is currently working properly and if it meets all regulations. Check with the appropriate county department for specific information about a particular property.
Read more important information (Provided by the Department of Environmental Quality) regarding septic systems and how to be “septic smart” as a homebuyer and important maintenance and operation information.
Sewer Scope Inspections:
Once you have verified the property is connected to a city sewer, don’t overlook the importance of a sewer scope inspection. A sewer scope inspection is used to determine the condition of a property’s sewer line. A video camera is inserted into the sewer line to determine the location and depth of any obstructions or problem areas such as holes, root intrusions, cracks, or separated pipes. Regardless of age of home, a prudent buyer will have the sewer line inspected.
A sewer backup can be a nasty and potentially expensive event to repair. Repair costs start at $5,000 and quickly escalate to the $15,000 – $20,000 range.
Although a real estate licensee may be able to help you find a local sewer scope inspector, they cannot themselves perform the sewer scope inspection or evaluate any results.
If domestic water for the property is supplied by a private well, the seller is required by state law to test the well for total coliform bacteria, nitrates and arsenic through an accredited laboratory. The seller must report the lab results to both the Oregon Health Authority and the buyer within 90 days of receiving them. The tests results are valid for one year and buyers should verify that the seller uses proper procedures when having the well tested. More information on this state law requirement can be found at www.HealthOregon.org/wells. Buyers may also want to have the well tested for other potential contaminants not required by Oregon law to determine water quality. For more information on domestic wells, visit www.HealthOregon.org/wells.
Buyers should verify that the seller uses proper procedures when having the well tested. More information on this state law requirement can be found by clicking here. Oregon state law also requires that all private wells not registered with the State of Oregon be registered at the time the property is transferred. Real estate forms in use in Oregon often delegate to the buyer the responsibility of registering the well with the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD). A useful guide to the well identification program can be found by clicking here.
Well Flow Tests:
If domestic water is supplied by a private well, the buyer should verify to the extent possible whether the well provides adequate water for domestic needs. It is strongly recommended that a well flow test be conducted prior to the purchase of any property that depends on a well for domestic water. Careful attention should be paid to any disclosures or representations by the seller.
Buyers should review all available well records. More information on well logs is available here. To access the well log database online, click here. Buyers are advised to have well flow tested by a professional. While real estate licensees are not trained and do not have the expertise to test wells, they may be able to direct you to the appropriate well professionals. Even when wells are inspected and tested, it is impossible to guarantee a continued supply of water.
Catastrophic events can and do occur that can change the well quality virtually overnight. Other events, such as development and drought, can affect the quality of an aquifer over time. Any test of a well is merely a snapshot in time and is not an indication of a well’s performance in the future. Any kind of well report should be viewed in this light. Professional inspection, well log review, contaminant testing and flow tests are absolutely critical in determining the condition of a private well.
UNDERGROUND OIL STORAGE TANKS
Buyers should be aware of potential problems associated with underground oil storage tanks. Although home heating oil tanks are not regulated, such tanks can cause serious problems if they have leaked oil. Advice on home heating oil tanks and the problems associated with them can be found by clicking here. A buyer who knows or suspects that property has an underground storage tank should take appropriate steps to protect his own interests, including seeking information from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and, if necessary, consulting with an environmental hazards specialist or attorney. Buyers are advised to hire appropriately trained environmental professionals to inspect the property if an underground oil storage tank is found or suspected. Oil storage tank inspection, decommissioning and cleanup requires a special license from DEQ. A list of licensed providers can be found here, or ask your real estate licensee for assistance in finding the proper professional.
Buyers should carefully review the Seller’s Property Disclosure Statement and any inspection reports available to determine if any of a number of potential environmental hazards may require further investigation. Environmental hazards include everything from expansive soils to landslides to forest fires, tsunamis, floods and earthquakes. Environmental hazards can also include indoor air quality (e.g., radon, mold, or carbon monoxide) and hazardous materials, like asbestos. Buyers concerned about external environmental hazards should check with the county in which the property is located. Oregon counties can be located by clicking here. Flood plain maps and information are available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) by clicking here. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides a great deal of information about indoor hazards on its website and can be found here. Superfund sites are areas that have been listed by the federal government as contaminated. A wealth of information on superfund sites, including their locations, is available by visiting the EPA’s website here. Information on Oregon superfund sites can be obtained from the Oregon Health Authority’s website here.
Real estate licensees are not trained, and do not have the expertise, to discover and evaluate environmental hazards. Buyers, therefore, are advised to hire appropriately trained environmental professionals to inspect the property and its systems or fixtures for environmental hazards.
Wildfire is a concern in some areas of Oregon. Information about the risk of wildfire is available from the Oregon Department of Forestry here. Some rural property is subject to special rules under the State’s “Forestland-Urban Interface Classification.” Owners of property within the classification should have a “Property Evaluation and Self-Certification” on file with the Department of Forestry. Forestland-Urban Interface status must be disclosed on the Seller’s Property Disclosure form. Information about the Forestland-Urban Interface and on the evaluation and certification program is available by clicking here. Real estate licensees do not have the expertise to advise buyers on fire protection requirements but can often direct buyers to the appropriate professionals.
DEQ has developed a statewide woodstove program to promote the use of cleaner-burning woodstoves and to help homeowners burn wood more efficiently and with less pollution. Under Oregon law, any uncertified woodstove must be removed from the property when a home is sold. It is the seller’s responsibility, unless the buyer and seller agree otherwise, to remove and destroy any uncertified woodstove when a property is sold and to notify DEQ. If the buyer assumes responsibility for the removal of the uncertified stove, the stove must be removed and destroyed, and DEQ notified, within 30 days of the closing date on the home. Non-certified woodstoves (including fireplace inserts) are older models (mostly pre-1986) that have not been certified by the DEQ or the federal Environmental Protection Agency to meet cleaner-burning smoke emission standards.
Buyers should contact their insurer early in the home buying process to determine what, if any, effect, a fireplace or woodstove may have on the availability or cost of fire insurance inspection of fireplaces and woodstoves requires special training and expertise. Although a real estate licensee may be able to help you find a local woodstove professional, they cannot themselves inspect or evaluate a woodstove.
Molds are one of a variety of biological contaminants which can be present in human structures, including in residential housing. Some molds have been identified as possible contributors to illness, particularly in infants, elderly, and people with suppressed immune systems and those with allergies or asthma. Less well known, and far less common, are certain molds identified as possible contributors to illness, particularly in people with allergies. Such cases usually involve property with defective siding, poor construction, water penetration problems, improper ventilation or leaking plumbing. In a few cases, these problems have led to the growth of molds which caused medical conditions in some people. Buyers, if concerned about potentially harmful molds, should arrange for inspection by a qualified professional. Information on moisture intrusion and mold problems associated with human structures can be found here.
Inspection, discovery and evaluation of specific water intrusion or mold problems requires extremely specialized training and is well beyond the scope of a real estate licensee’s expertise. Buyers are, therefore, advised to hire appropriately trained professionals to inspect the property if the buyer is concerned about the possibility of harmful molds.
In Oregon, no person may sell a dwelling unless there is installed in the dwelling unit an approved smoke detector or smoke alarm installed in accordance with the rules of the State Fire Marshal. Because of this state law requirement, most residential real estate sale forms contain a representation by the seller that, at the earlier of possession or closing date, the dwelling will have operating smoke alarm(s)/detector(s) as required by law. Types of smoke alarms available include: photoelectric, ionization, dual-sensing ionization and photoelectric, and combination smoke and carbon monoxide.
The smoke alarm power source requirement is based on what was required at the time of construction or remodel. The power supply of a smoke alarm shall be a commercial power source, an integral battery or batteries, or combination of both. Solely battery-powered ionization smoke alarms must have a 10-year battery and a “hush” mechanism which allows a person to temporarily disengage the alarm.
Photoelectric, dual-sensing ionization/photoelectric, combination smoke/carbon monoxide, and hardwired alarms do not require a 10-year battery or a hush feature. Ten-year batteries should not be placed in smoke alarms unless they are recommended by the manufacturer.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code (72-126.96.36.199); “Unless otherwise recommended by the manufacturer’s published instructions, single and multiple station smoke alarms installed in one- and two-family dwellings shall be replaced when they fail to respond to operability test, but shall not remain in service longer than 10 years from the date of manufacture.”
All dwellings must have the proper type, number and placement of alarms as required by the building codes at the time the dwelling was constructed but not less than one alarm adjacent to each sleeping area and at least one alarm on each level of the dwelling. (Additional rules apply to rented property.) For information about smoke alarm and detector requirements in Oregon, you should visit the State Fire Marshal’s web site.
Real estate licensees are not trained in building code compliance, therefore, if there is doubt about whether a smoke alarm or detector system complies with building and fire code requirements, a licensed home inspector, or the home alarm or detector company that installed the system, should be able assist you. Your real estate agent may be able to assist you in finding the right code compliance professional.
CARBON MONOXIDE ALARMS
Any person transferring a one or two-family dwelling or multifamily housing (additional rules apply to rental property) that contains a carbon monoxide source (heater, fireplace, appliance, or cooking source that uses coal, wood, petroleum products, and other fuels that emit carbon monoxide as a by-product of combustion. Petroleum products include, but are not limited to kerosene, natural gas, and propane. Fuel burning sources also include wood and pellet stoves, gas water heaters or has an attached garage with a door, ductwork, or ventilation shaft that communicates directly with a living space, must provide a properly functioning carbon monoxide alarm(s) installed at the location(s) that provide carbon monoxide detection for all sleeping areas of the dwelling or housing (on all levels of the home where there are bedrooms). Homes built during or after 2011, or that undergo a remodel or alteration that requires a building permit, CO alarms are required regardless of the presence of a CO source. The alarm(s) must be installed in accordance with the rules of the State Fire Marshall and in accordance with any applicable requirements of the state building code. Information about carbon monoxide alarms and detector requirements in Oregon can be found on the State Fire Marshal’s web site here.
A purchaser or transferee who is aggrieved by a violation of this requirement may bring an individual action in an appropriate court to recover the greater of actual damages or $250 per residential unit (plus fees, including attorney’s fees). Violation of this requirement does not invalidate any sale or transfer of possession. Actions for violations must be brought within one (1) year of the sale or transfer of possession.
Because of this state law requirement, most residential real estate forms will contain a representation that, at the earlier of possession or closing date, the dwelling will have an operating carbon monoxide detector as required by law. Sellers should anticipate the carbon monoxide alarm requirement as it is also included on the new seller’s property disclosure form.
Real estate licensees are not trained in building code or fire code compliance. If there is any doubt about whether a carbon monoxide alarm complies with the building or fire code requirements, a licensed home inspector, or the alarm company should be contacted.
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that, when it has accumulated in a building in sufficient quantities, may present health risks to persons who are exposed to it over time. Levels of radon that exceed federal and state guidelines have been found in buildings in Oregon. Additional information regarding radon and radon testing may be obtained from your county health department or from the Oregon Health Authority by clicking here. You can visit the EPA’s website here.
Real estate licensees do not have the expertise to advise buyers on radon testing requirements but can often direct buyers to the appropriate professionals.
Residential property built before 1978 (called “target” housing) is subject to the Residential Lead-Based Paint Disclosure Program administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The Act requires sellers of target housing to provide the buyer with a lead-based paint disclosure and the pamphlet entitled Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home. Information about the requirements and samples of the forms can be found on HUD’s website or by clicking here.
If you make an offer on a home built before 1978 and do not receive the disclosure and pamphlet, you should ask your real estate licensee about lead-based paint disclosures. For more information and to locate companies certified and licensed to conduct lead-based paint testing or perform abatement, click here.
If you are planning renovation, repair, or painting (RRP) on a home built before 1978, you should be aware of EPA rules that require such work be done by certified contractors who must follow EPA work guidelines. This may complicate or add expense to such projects. RRP rules in Oregon are jointly administered and enforced by the Construction Contractors Board (CCB) & the Oregon Health Authority. Click here for more information. Homeowners who do their own work in their own home are exempt from RRP rules. EPA does, however, urge homeowners to read EPA’s Renovate Right: Important Lead Hazard Information for Families, Child Care Providers, and Schools. Homeowners can also call the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-LEAD (5323) for more information or visit EPA’s website by clicking here.
This is a lot of information to wade through. Your Oregon First agent can help you make informed decisions about what types of inspections to get, what questions to ask of the seller, and what types of repairs and testing would be reasonable to ask of the seller, given the price you’re paying and the current conditions of the market. DON’T try to go it alone. Risk can never be entirely removed, but a good agent can give you information and strategies to help minimize the risk as much as possible.