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Q & A with America’s real estate professor: Whole house fans

Published: Wednesday, July 10, 2013 12:29 p.m. CST

Whole House Fans

Q. It’s hot here in Richmond in the summer! I was at your favorite store last week, Home Depot, and I saw something called a whole house fan that goes into the attic and cools down a house. I was wondering if you have any experience with these and how well they work. Jim M., Richmond, Va.

A. Yes, I’ve installed a few over the years and generally speaking they work really well. They work especially well for two-story properties where all the hot air gets trapped upstairs in the middle of the house.

A whole house fan is installed in the center of the house – protruding from the attic into the living space. It has a shutter that blocks air, dirt, and insulation from falling into your living space when it isn’t on. When you do turn on the fan – which can be set automatically via a thermostat or done manually, it pulls all the hot air up from the house into the attic and out the attic vents. So make sure you have sufficient attic vent airflow). It’s best to leave the windows open downstairs so the cool outside air can be pulled into the house while it is turned on. It usually takes just a few minutes to cool the entire house to the outside temperature – so they really work best as the sun is going down.

The units themselves cost about $250. You’ll also have to get electric power to the fan, maybe a thermostat or power switch, and a ceiling joist will most likely need to be cut and reframed. You would probably want a contractor to do this and I’m guessing total cost will be $500 to $750. But it is a great improvement to save money and should make inside life a lot cooler.

Of course ask around if your neighbors have them and if they are happy with the fans. And keep me posted on what you decide. Have a great July!

Disclosures

Q. I’m in the process of selling my house and, unfortunately, it’s partially because of an unpleasant neighbor a few doors down. This particular neighbor has been a problem for years to several of us who live on the block. We’ve tried many things – city code compliance, the police, attempted mediation – but his disruptive behavior, unfortunately, goes on and on. I’m unclear whether I need to disclose this issue in my selling documents. My realtor says yes. M.T., Oakland, Calif.

A. I’m really sorry to hear about your problem neighbor. While neighbor disputes are not uncommon, most don’t rise to the level of impacting many homeowners on the block nor requiring all the items you noted in your attempts to resolve the issue.

For a homeowner, this is a very bad situation. If you disclose it, it could impact the price of your home because many people are going to lose interest in your property. If you don’t disclose it, you subject yourself to potential future litigation with the buyer – if this issue is considered “material.” That’s the key, is it a material issue under California and local law. What exactly is “material” regarding a nuisance neighbor, I am sure, has been tried before and determined in courts in California. So a lawyer could help you with this issue.

In general, a homeowner needs to disclose material issues that could impact a property’s value, the ability to sell it and potential to disrupt an inhabitant’s right to quiet enjoyment. My guess is that your realtor, knowing of the issue, will refuse your listing at this point if you refuse to disclose it.

I think I’d want to get some guidance from a lawyer in this case. Your realtor’s local association may have a lawyer to give you some direction or a recommendation of a local lawyer. I’m going to guess that everyone is going to say disclose it to protect yourself. Again, sorry to hear about this issue and I hope you can get it resolved in a satisfactory way.

Leonard Baron, MBA, is America’s Real Estate Professor® - his unbiased, neutral and inexpensive “Real Estate Ownership, Investment and Due Diligence 101” textbook teaches real estate owners how to make smart and safe purchase decisions. He is a San Diego State University Lecturer, blogs at Zillow.com, and loves kicking the tires of a good piece of dirt! More at ProfessorBaron.com. Email your questions to: Leonard@ProfessorBaron.com

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