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House Detective: Getting to root of plumbing problem

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DEAR BARRY: Our house just went into escrow, and the buyer's home inspector is concerned about the large tree in our front yard. He said its roots could be damaging the main sewer pipe, and he advised further investigation to be sure the pipe is OK. Is this really a cause for concern?

— Rick

DEAR RICK: Tree roots are a common cause of damage to sewage piping, especially the main sewer lateral that extends from the house to the street. Home inspectors commonly make recommendations of this kind, because they cannot determine what is taking place below ground.

The best way to inspect the condition of the waste line is to hire a licensed plumber who does video inspections of piping. The cost is usually a few hundred dollars, and the video will reveal whatever defects may be present inside the line.

The primary business of tree roots is to seek moisture and organic nutrients. When seepage occurs at loose drainpipe fittings, hungry roots are attracted. When roots find their way into narrow gaps, they grow larger, causing separation and breakage. Eventually, root buildup within the lines can cause sewage to back up at tubs, toilets and other fixtures.

If you have had no problems with slow or backed-up drains, your sewer lateral may be free of defects. A professional video inspection will resolve uncertainties about this and reassure your buyer. On the other hand, if major damage is found, repair costs could be significant. Better to find out now than after the close of escrow.

DEAR BARRY: For the past year, we've been hearing noises on the roof of our condo. We used to think it was caused by squirrels on the roof, but lately it sounds like something is running around in our attic. There is no attic access opening in our unit, so we haven’t been able to check this out. Now that we're getting ready to sell the condo, we're not sure if we should disclose this because it might scare off any buyers. Perhaps the homeowners association (HOA) should take care of it. What do you think?

— Hanna

DEAR HANNA: Most likely, you have rats or squirrels inside your attic, and this is definitely something to disclose to potential buyers. However, before listing the property for sale, the problem should be addressed by a licensed exterminator. If there is no attic access in your unit, there may be one in an adjoining condominium. It is also possible that the attic is too small to require an access opening. These questions of access and of extermination will need to be determined by the HOA, because the attic is not part of the living space of your condo

As for disclosure to buyers, the withholding of pertinent information is something that you should never even consider. Disclosure of known defects is a matter of law for sellers. Aside from the legal requirement, there are matters of ethics and liability. Total disclosure is what you would want if you were the buyer, and full disclosure will protect you from complaints and possible lawsuits after you sell the property.

To write to Barry Stone, go to www.housedetective.com.

ACTION COAST PUBLISHING

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