What should a realtor look for when showing a listing to a client?
How does a realtor or a client know whether to pursue a house or to walk away?
It really depends upon what the clients are looking for. If they want a historical home and if the home has not been restored, they can expect to spend tens of thousands of dollars or more in restoration. Some buyers are looking for fixer uppers, but even then, they will walk away if the renovation is too costly or overwhelming.
Most buyers are looking for a house that is close to move in ready without expecting to spend a lot of out of pocket money within the first 5 years of ownership.
The top three high dollar repairs facing a prospective home buyers in the Houston area are:
- Foundation Settlement
- Air,Conditioning / Furnace (HVAC)
This blog addresses HVAC.
HVAC is an acronym for Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning. In the Houston area, the furnace can be either gas or electric. The cooling equipment is all electric.
The furnace unit is typically installed in the attic, but it could also be installed vertically in a closet either inside or outside the home.
The cooling equipment consists of 2 parts:
- The Condensing Unit, located outside the house, contains the compressor, condensing coils and a large fan to draw air through the condensing coils.
- The Evaporative Unit, usually attached to the furnace, contains the evaporative coils, an expansion device, and a blower fan that blows house air through the evaporative coils.
The cooling equipment uses a basic scientific principle. If gas is compressed, it gets hot. If the pressure is released, the gas becomes cold. A special gas, similar to Freon, is used that can quickly heat up and cool down by applying and relieving pressure. Once the gas cools down in the evaporative coils, house air is blown past the coils and reenters the house to cool it down.
The Evaporative Unit will create condensation. The water as the result of condensation and is drained off to outside the house. For additional protection, a drip pan or overflow pan is installed underneath the Evaporative Unit. If this pan contains rust or water, it is an indication that the Evaporative Unit is defective. The regular drain lines may be clogged. Unusual amount of condensation may be occurring due to dirty air filters.
Air filters remove dust particles from the air before it is blown across the evaporation coils. If the air filter is dirty, it restricts the air flow that is needed. A reduced air flow can result in ice appearing on the outside of the evaporative coils. As the ice melts, the water falls into the drip pan.
An HVAC technician should always be called if the drip pan has rust or water.
Most units in the Houston area are central heat and air. Occasionally, a house will have a heat pump installed.
Heat pumps work exactly like air conditioners, but they reverse the operation. Air conditioners apply pressure to heat and cool down the gas in order to cool the house down. A heat pump draws heat from the outside air and brings it into the house. If additional heat is required, supplemental heat from the furnace is automatically turned on to heat the house. This saves the home owner money by not having to run the furnace. Heat pumps work well in moderate climates. In very cold climates, they are rarely seen because furnace heat is continually required.
Determining The Age of The AC Unit
Determining the age and the size of the air conditioning unit is tricky because posting this on the manufacturer’s label is not required. Sometimes the manufacturer provides clues in the serial number.
An internet search on the manufacturer may provide instructions on how to determine the age of the unit.
For example, Carrier gives clues about the age of the unit in the first 4 digits of the serial number. The first 2 numbers indicate the week of the year it was manufactured. The 2nd two digits indicate the year. For example, a serial number starting with 4006 indicates it was manufactured in the 40th week of 2006.
When it was manufactured does not indicate when it was installed. The unit must be shipped to a distributor. It may sit in inventory for several months or even a year or two before it is installed.
Determining The Size of the AC Unit
Determining the size of the unit is also difficult. Air conditioners are rated as 2 ton, 3 ton, 4 ton, etc. One ton is the equivalent of 12,000 BTUs (British Thermal Units). The BTUs may appear separately or as part of the model number.
Carrier puts the BTU in the 7th and 8th positions of the model number. Divide the BTU by 12 to get the tonnage.
Model number 24ABA424A300 is a 2 ton unit (24 divided by 12)
Model number 24ABA30A300 is a 2½ ton unit
Again, each manufacturer is different.
What To Look For
Listen to the outside air conditioner condensing unit. If it is loud or making unusual noises, then a HVAC technician should evaluate the unit. Repairs may be required.
Check the condition of the condensing unit. Signs of age, rust may be an indicator that the unit is nearing the end of its useful life. This may require going in the attic. Most realtors leave this for the home inspector.
The best way to determine the age of the unit is to ask the seller. If they do not know and if you cannot determine the age of the unit from the manufacturer’s label, you can guess. The average life expectancy in the Houston area is about 8 to 10 years. Divide the age of the home by 8 to get the number of units installed. The remainder is how many useful years are left. Again, this is a very rough guess. We have seen units last as much as 15 years before they were replaced.
If it is summer, check the thermostat and the temperature of the home. If the house is warm and the thermostat is set at 72, then the unit may not cooling as it should. Of course, other factors also come into play such as attic insulation and ventilation.
What To Do
If the unit appears to be operating normally, your home inspector will do a more thorough inspection. If the air conditioner is not cooling or if you detect possible issues with the condensing unit, ask a HVAC technician to perform an inspection of the unit.
Your professional home inspector has been trained to inspect HVAC units. If they detect issues, they may recommend further assessment by a specialist.