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‘Popcorn’ ceiling issue for recent homebuyer

DEAR MR. MYERS: I purchased a home in February. The sellers had put in a fresh, new “popcorn” ceiling in the living room just before they listed it for sale. A week after I moved in, a large chunk of the popcorn fell to the floor and exposed lots of cracks in the original ceiling. I paid a contractor nearly $4,000 to have all of the popcorn covering removed and all of the cracks (more were found) patched. Is there any way to get the money that I paid for the repairs reimbursed?

ANSWER: Yes. You have a few options to try to get your money back, though none of them is 100 percent guaranteed to be successful.

So-called popcorn ceilings — sometimes called “cottage cheese,” “stucco” or (more accurately) an “acoustic” ceiling — still can be found in millions of homes across America, even though their popularity began to wane in the 1980s. It’s a relatively inexpensive way to add a rough texture to a ceiling or wall: Some folks love the look, while others despise it.

One choice to try to get reimbursed for your repair bill would be to sue the seller. Your letter states that you purchased the home with a “fresh, new ‘popcorn’ ceiling.” It clearly should not have begun falling down just days after you moved in.

I am not suggesting that your particular seller intentionally tried to hide the old, cracked ceiling by painting or spraying it with an inexpensive coat of popcorn. But in four decades of buying, selling and writing about real estate, I’ve seen that ploy several times.

The real estate agent who sold the house to you also might be held financially liable for your home-repair bill, but only if the agent knew about the faulty ceiling and didn’t disclose the problem. If the new ceiling material was applied by a contractor, he or she could be held responsible if it was improperly used.

Some homebuyers who have suffered similar problems automatically want to sue the home inspector who they hired before the deal was closed. But that can be a tough lawsuit to win, especially in your case: Typically, an inspector isn’t expected to fully check the physical condition of a room’s ceiling, unless (generally) there are stains or other signs of problems.

Call the company that provides your homeowners insurance policy. There’s a chance that it may cover your repair bill, or at least provide some other ideas to get reimbursed for your loss.

DEAR MR. MYERS: A few years ago, you wrote about an eco-friendly way to clear clogged drains without the use of store-bought chemical liquids like Drano or Liquid-Plumr. I wish that I had saved that column, because I don’t recall the details. Can you help?

ANSWER: Sure. I always like to answer these types of questions as “Earth Day” (April 22) approaches, a day that’s set aside to demonstrate support for environmental protection.

Most over-the-counter drain cleaners are safe to use in homes that have either plastic or metal pipes, providing that you follow all of the instructions on the bottle’s label. But even then, the chemicals in the solution wash down into the sewers and eventually wind up in our oceans or lakes, posing a serious threat to fish and other wildlife.

Fortunately, there’s often a cheaper and more eco-friendly way to go that often works just as well as store-bought cleaners. Just pour about half of a small box of dry baking soda down the clogged drain, follow it with a half-cup of vinegar, and quickly cover the drain’s opening tightly with a towel or rag. If you have a double-sink, you’ll need to tightly cover the other drain too.

Interaction between the baking soda and vinegar will create a mini-volcano, much like the ones that countless children have used for their grade-school science fairs, but the rag that’s stuffed in the sink’s hole should force the explosion downward and blow out all but the nastiest of clogs.

Pour a gallon or two of boiling water down the drain 30 minutes later to clear out any residue.

REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: Though Earth Day was the brainchild of late U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, D-Wis., and first celebrated in America in the early 1970s, it is now officially observed in 192 nations around the world.

DEAR MR. MYERS: Is there a limit on how much someone can sue another in small claims court?

ANSWER: Yes, but the limit varies from one state to the next.

According to nolo.com, one of my favorite law-related websites, the limit is as low as $2,500 in Kentucky to as high as $15,000 in Delaware. Call your local small claims court and ask for details about whether you are able to file and, if so, the procedure that you must follow.

David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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