DEAR MR. MYERS: A weird “rotten egg” smell has been filling our home for several months. Inspectors from our local gas company have come out twice and said they smell it too, but both determined that we have no gas leak. We also have checked out our home, from the crawlspace under the house up to our attic, and found no dead animals that could be creating the stench. Do you have any ideas about what is causing this problem?
ANSWER: That’s a puzzler, indeed. Perhaps it’s a sewer or septic-tank leak, which only a professional could detect.
Before you pay to have a pro to come out, though, call your local Public Works Department and ask if it would send out a government-paid inspector who may be able to check the sewer lines on both your personal property and the main sewer line that travels under the street in front of your house for free.
There’s another possible culprit here, and it’s a stench-sowing son-of-a-gun that is causing problems for a relatively small but growing number of homeowners across the nation: It’s the drywall that’s in their homes.
I have written about drywall problems in the past. Though faulty drywall doesn’t always have telltale signs of visible mold or other problems, the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission recently released a statement that other indicators may include “blackening of metal in or on electrical fixtures, appliances, plumbing and air-conditioner coils.”
The CPSC has now received more than 4,000 complaints from residents in 44 states that may be linked to faulty drywall. In addition to the rotten-egg smell that you are suffering, other homeowners have complained of recurring headaches, difficulty breathing, unexplained bloody noses or other maladies.
If you suspect that your current problem is caused by defective drywall, you’ll need to hire a licensed contractor to inspect it and, possibly, to remove and replace it. You also might need to replace the wiring that’s behind it, especially if it’s blackened, rusty or corroded.
For more information, call the federal agency at 800-638-2772. If you want faster and more detailed info, visit cspc.gov. Type “drywall” in the site’s search key, which is located on the right corner of its homepage.
REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: Though some homeowners wonder why the CPSC didn’t catch the faulty drywall before it was installed in homes, agency officials note that they don’t have the legal authority to perform pre-market testing or to approve products before they are sold. In other words, they can’t do anything until something goes wrong.
DEAR MR. MYERS: A newspaper ad here says that a home that is in foreclosure has a “BPO” value of $82,500. What is a BPO?
ANSWER: Most newspaper readers don’t see that confusing abbreviation often. It’s shorthand for “Broker Price Opinion,” a dollar figure that’s set by a real estate broker or sales agent who estimates the current market value of a home without the help of a professional appraiser.
Banks that are stuck with a lot of foreclosed properties sometimes use BPOs because it’s cheaper than ordering a full-blown report from an appraiser. But many such opinions aren’t very accurate, in part because realty brokers and sales agents are not trained to spot hard-to-find defects that can be costly to fix.
DEAR MR. MYERS: I made a full-price offer to buy a house on a Friday, with the usual contingency that the sellers would have to accept or reject my offer within 72 hours. They accepted my offer the next morning, but I found another house that I liked even more later that afternoon. My real estate agent and I asked the sellers of the first house to return my good-faith $5,000 deposit, but they have refused. Can I sue to get the deposit back?
ANSWER: Sure, you could sue. But as my late mother would say, “You better eat your spinach first, Popeye, because you’re in for a heckuva (courtroom) fight.”
A good-faith deposit is just that: It’s a buyer’s written promise, backed with cash, to prove that the buyer has the intention to close a deal. If the buyer reneges, the seller usually can keep the dough.
That said, you may have a chance to get your $5,000 deposit back without going to court. Your letter suggests that you made your offer on a typical “boilerplate” form that most real estate agents use, which includes a contingency that says the transaction may be canceled – and the buyer’s deposit automatically returned – if the buyer hires a professional inspector who finds a defect that the seller didn’t disclose.
Common problems that allow a buyer to cancel a sale and get the deposit back are a roof that may be leaking, faulty or insufficient electrical wiring that doesn’t meet local building codes, or a plumbing issue that keeps the kitchen sink from draining or a toilet from flushing properly.
If the seller won’t agree to pay for needed repairs or to provide a closing credit to help you pay for the work yourself, you have the right to demand that your check for the good-faith deposit be returned by the sellers or the escrow officer or closing attorney who is handling the transaction.
David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.