Seller Inspections

Whenever a home is sold in Massachusetts, it is required that the home be inspected by the local fire department for properly working smoke/carbon monoxide detectors. Also, a property that is not connected to city sewerage must have its private septic system inspected. A property cannot change hands without a certificate issued by the local fire department, and, in the case of private sewerage, a Title V certificate.

Smoke Dectector Inspection

Effective April 5, 2010, a new regulation relating to the installation and maintenance of certain smoke detectors came into effect; and we can expect more laws to be passed over time. Not keeping up to date with changes in the law can be costly for landlords, sellers, and real estate agents alike.

One important point about smoke detectors worth mentioning is the fact that if you need a repair to an old detector you may have to upgrade ALL the detectors in your home to a newer model.

The cost to obtain your certificate may vary depending upon the fire department. The current average cost is $25-$50 plus the repair or installation of detectors to satisfy current code requirements. Although this detection equipment inspection has been mandated for the safety of new occupants, it is really for your safety as well.

What are the current requirements? Since there are pros and cons to the use of both photoelectric and ionization smoke detectors, owners are required to install and maintain both ionization and photoelectric smoke detectors. While the new regulation does not change the locations where smoke detectors are required, it does allow the installation of both technologies in certain locations. An ionization detector must not be placed within 20 feet of a kitchen or full bathroom. In these locations only a photo electronic detector is allowed.  Although you do not want to pay for an inspection more than once - they are only valid for 30 days - you might wish to go ahead and order an inspection immediately if you feel that what you have might be ineffective, inadequate, or improperly placed for your own protection. If you choose to install two separate detectors that have both technologies or install just one that utilizes both, you will be in compliance with the law and have maximum notice should a fire break out in your home. Jim recommends the installation of a combination smoke/CO2 detector. You can purchase hard-wired or battery-operated ones from Lowe's and Home Depot.

If you know that you are in compliance, wait 10-14 days before closing before ordering the inspection. As it is, it is already awfully annoying to pay the fire department inspector $50 to come out and only press the test buttons to hear each of the detectors beep or squeal and you don't want to have to pay for it twice!

The aforesaid applies to the following properties:

  • Residential buildings under 70 feet tall and containing less than six dwelling units.
  • Residential buildings not substantially altered since January 1, 1975, and containing less than 6 residential units.
  • All residential buildings sold or transferred after April 5, 2010, which are less then 70 feet tall, have less than six units, or have not been substantially altered since January 1, 1975.

The reason the law does not apply to larger buildings or those which were substantially altered since January, 1975, is because these properties would have been already required to upgrade their fire safety systems under other existing laws.

Many towns require hard-wired smoke detectors versus battery operated units. You should make certain you know what the requirement is for the town you are located in. As a general rule, according to the State fire Marshall's office, the law is as follows:

  • Homes built after 1975 are required upon sale or transfer to comply with the State Building Code in effect at the time of construction. But, there is more! Homes built between 1975 and 1998 are required to have hard wired interconnected smoke detectors outside the bedrooms and one detector on each floor at the top of the stairs. The smoke detector at the top of the stairs can be the same detector that is required outside the bedroom. Additionally, homes built after 1998, smoke detectors are required to be interconnected AND have a battery backup. Smoke detectors are required in each bedroom, outside the bedroom and at the top of each flight of stairs. A single detector can satisfy multiple location requirements, if sited properly. There must also be one smoke detector on each level and one smoke detector for each 1,200 square feet of living space.
  • Homes built before 1975 are required upon sale or transfer to comply with the new requirements. Please note: the requirements for newer construction above, also apply to additions and/or renovations where a bedroom is either added or substantially altered. If an addition or renovation involves adding or substantially changing a bedroom, the entire house, including existing bedrooms must be brought up to the present standard regardless of when the original home was built.

Carbon Monoxide Dectector Inspection

Carbon Monoxide detectors are required in any residence that has fossil-fuel burning equipment including, but not limited to, a furnace, boiler, water heater, fireplace or any other apparatus, appliance or device; or has enclosed parking within its structure.

According to the carbon monoxide regulations, you need to have a detector on each finished level of the home. Further there must be a detector placed within ten feet of all the bedroom doors. The detectors do not need to be hard wired. A plug-in or battery operated detector meets the requirements and usually the most viable choice. Here are all the types are carbon monoxide detectors that are allowed:

  • Battery powered with battery monitoring;
  • Plug-in, AC-powered units with battery backup;
  • Hard-wired, AC-powered with battery backup;
  • Low-voltage/wireless units with secondary power;
  • Qualified, combination smoke/CO alarms

The certificate of compliance you get from the fire department inspector will need to be brought to the closing. The lender's attorney will most certainly ask for this document and you will not be able to close on your property without it!

Title V Inspection

Sellers, the last thing you want is a problem with your septic system after you have already gone to the time and effort to get your property under agreement! The Title V inspection should be ordered BEFORE you offer your home for sale, especially if you are sincere in your desire and efforts to sell.

Sadly, the financial burden that a failed septic system creates is fairly substantial for most. The cost to replace a septic system can range from $10,000 to $60,000 depending on the soil conditions and the water table. Aside from the unexpected financial headache, it also involves digging up your yard to install a new system.

The average cost of a Title 5 Inspection is between $400 to $1,000. The price depends upon how much digging is needed to locate the components and how much pumping is required to clean the system out.

Additional information regarding septic systems HERE, including tips on how to pass your Title V inspection, and what to do if it fails.