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The Unexpected Challenge to Home Repair: Electrical Wiring

New home buyers and remodelers sometimes find an expensive problem as they start to dig in: Old and faulty wiring that needs fixed or even completely replaced.

WASHINGTON – As remodeling surges and more first-time buyers opt for a fixer-upper, some owners discover an unexpected expense: old, faulty electrical wiring. It might not be just in older homes either. An apparent increase in electrical problems may be occurring due to remote work and school may be taxing on older fuse boxes and frayed wiring.

Electricians consider electrical systems older than 1980 most likely to experience problems, The Washington Post reports. But the cost to upgrade can mount quickly – about $25 to $30 an hour to replace a receptacle, for example, and homeowners could be charged about $200 to rewire an outlet and about $3,000 to rewire an electrical system.

Even if buyers discover faulty wiring during an inspection, they might not have the negotiating leverage to do anything about it in today’s seller’s market, either asking the seller to make repairs or negotiating a lower price.

“Buyers don’t have the luxury to reject an old house in this market,” says Catarina Bannier, a sales associate with Compass in Chevy Chase, Md. “With lean inventory and multiple offers, buyers aren’t taking the chance of losing competitiveness by adding contingencies, even ones as ordinary as an inspection clause. A few years ago, I had a buyer who walked away because of an electrical problem, but I doubt I’d see that now.”

Rebecca Weiner, who works in the same real estate office as Bannier, suggests that buyers get a pre-offer inspection – a less comprehensive inspection that’s scheduled by the buyer, with the consent of the seller, prior to submitting an offer on a home.

“A pre-offer inspection lets you know what you’re buying, what fixes you’ll have to make, and, generally, will make you feel more comfortable about the state of the house,” Weiner told the Post. “If you’re out a few hundred dollars, it’s a risk worth taking and the cost of doing the business of buying a house.”

Home inspectors say that during pre-inspections, they’ll determine the age of the furnace, air conditioners and water heater. But during the full inspection – which usually comes after an offer is submitted – they’ll verify circuit breakers are properly matched and corresponding to electric wire sizes and test wall outlets using handheld plug-in testers to check polarity and grounding.

Some of the most common electrical issues home inspectors see include the overloading of outlets and safety hazards from aluminum wiring, which is most often found in older homes. Electricians also say not enough homes use the safer three-prong outlets, referred to as “grounding.” Many older homes have two-prong outlets that could increase the risk of shock or fire if they malfunction.

Source: “How to Avoid Shocking Discoveries in Your Homes Electrical Systems,” The Washington Post (April 7, 2021)

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