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House Calls: Minor Matters

Edith Lank on

Dear Edith: Though my problems were not as major as your recent letter writers', I had a few strange experiences with my house.

Months after purchase, I finally got around to figuring out why the light over the sink would not operate, even with a new bulb. I unscrewed the fixture from the ceiling only to find out that it was simply a fixture screwed into the ceiling. There were no wires to be connected. The previous owner probably just put it there probably to make it look as if there were a light.

Also, a door does not latch. When I want it to be shut from the outside, I run a string from the doorknob to the bathroom closet. And the bathroom fan doesn't work at all, but I don't need it. -- J.

Answer: A carpenter could fix that door, and an electrician would solve the other problems. Buyers of an older house can pretty much expect minor surprises. Yours wouldn't have been important enough to go to court over. They're probably about par for the course in a lived-in house.

I think of this every time the pilot light doesn't work in the front right burner of my gas stove. All you have to do is turn on the back burner, and the front one will catch. But will my kids someday alert potential buyers of this house about it? Would the buyers' home inspector note it?

I end up remembering that the stove isn't really part of the real estate anyhow -- it's legally treated as a fixture. I'm sure there are other small accommodations I make in this house without even noticing them. That's probably unavoidable when the place has been lived in. And, as I said, it's not important enough to go to court over.

Lawyer at Closing

Ms. Lank: We are going to sell our house, and we are told that we need to use a lawyer. We have never heard of that. We have sold houses in California and never used a lawyer. Is it really necessary? -- K. H.

Answer: Yes, in New York (also in much of New Jersey and some other areas), even simple real estate transfers are usually handled by attorneys. This is not a legal requirement; it's just regional custom.

If it were the other way around -- if you were from New York and buying a house in California -- you might not even know what people are talking about when they say, "We hope to go to escrow Monday morning."

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