Heating and air questions to ask before you buy that house

Aside from the roof over your head, the heating and air conditioning (HVAC) system(s) in a home are likely your largest potential investments in any home you’re considering purchasing.

Much like roofs, HVAC systems have limited lifespans and will typically have to be replaced at some point after the home is purchased.

Unlike a roof replacement, though, there are very few situations where an HVAC system would be replaced by your insurance company.

Of course, there are exceptions to that rule of thumb, but it’s rare for an insurance company to replace an HVAC system even in the event of hail damage to the external unit.

Now, that’s probably not on your mind when you’re going to open houses and looking for a home to purchase, but a new HVAC system can cost on average between $7,000 and $12,000, so it’s important to know the state of a home’s HVAC system(s) before you purchase it.

Here are some questions you can ask to find that out.

1. Is your HVAC equipment still under warranty? Do you still have the warranty information?

If the seller isn’t sure, there’s a good chance there may not be a warranty. Most of the newer equipment we install in Edmond and Oklahoma City area homes carry warranties on various components anywhere from 5 years to 25 years.

2. What type of equipment do you have, and how old is it?

The age of the equipment is even more important than the type. Most systems, depending on how well they are maintained, last between ten and fifteen years. Well-maintained systems can sometimes last longer than fifteen years, but we’ve also seen poorly-maintained systems fail before ten years.

3. Do you happen to have a copy of the repair and maintenance records?

If you wouldn’t simply take someone’s word on vehicle maintenance for a vehicle you want to purchase, don’t just take someone at their word on HVAC maintenance, either. If there’re no way to verify that the system has been well-maintained, you could be taking on some risk with that home.

Prevent unexpected expenses with due diligence

When it comes time to have a home inspected, we always recommend having a trained HVAC professional inspect the heating and cooling equipment (not a home inspector). Why is that? Here’s an explanation of our stance on this subject.

If you find out that the HVAC system will need to be replaced sooner rather than later, you can either walk away or negotiate a better price. We’ve seen purchases backfire with new homeowners having to replace their HVAC systems months after buying their homes, and nobody wants to be in that situation.

One homeowner we’ve recently visited with discovered that the two HVAC systems in their new home were patched and pieced together, leading to several performance issues. They didn’t tour the home on a particularly hot or cold day, so the HVAC system wasn’t really running when they were in the home. The home inspector wasn’t trained to look for issues with the heating and cooling equipment, and on the surface, everything checked out.

This homeowner is now investing $17,000 in an unexpected expense to replace the equipment and correct air duct issues.

I’m no real estate expert by any means, but it’s a good idea to tour a home during the heat of summer if you can manage it—that’s when the inefficiencies or lack of comfort in a home really stand out. If you can’t be comfortable in the home, do you really want to buy it? Would you still buy it at asking price?

When you’re asking questions about the home’s HVAC system, don’t forget to check the furnace or heater, as well as the outside air conditioning unit. Look for manufacturer’s labels or plates with information on each of the units, and take a picture of them. I’d recommend doing a little internet research on the units. The serial numbers will often indicate the true age of the equipment.

If you’re considering purchasing a home and would like an honest, unbiased assessment of the HVAC system(s), we are happy to help.

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