The process of buying or selling a home can be equal parts joyful and stressful, as the invested parties consider each element of the transaction and how important it is to the transaction as a whole. Realtors and home inspectors play a large role in this back-and-forth, weighing in on aspects they deem important for their clients. Often HVAC cleaning enters into the discussion, sometimes requested by the buyer as a condition of purchase, or performed by the seller as an incentive prior to listing. But how important is it to have HVAC systems cleaned on the transfer of property, and which party is responsible for paying for the service
On the latter question, that depends, says Carolynn Carleton, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Burnet in Minneapolis. "Right now, it's a seller's market, so it's more difficult getting sellers to accommodate demands or conditions on the part of the buyer, since they can simply take the next offer." If it's a buyers market, on the other hand, the buyer can more easily set performance of a service as a condition of purchase. "Every transaction is unique."
Whoever pays for HVAC cleaning services, there are several that should be considered in order to ensure a smooth transaction, and to ensure the cleanliness and proper function of the various systems for the incoming party.
Air Duct Cleaning
The average person having any awareness of the detritus that lurks inside air ducts would choose to have them cleaned when taking ownership of a new property. Besides the usual gross accumulation inside, such as pet fur and dander, crumbs, and household dust, our technicians find all manner of strange items in ducts. Anything that can be dropped down a vent (or in many cases deliberately placed there) can be found within. It's wise, and common, for new homeowners to either request this service of the seller or do it themselves on move-in.
In our experience, air duct cleaning may best be left to the buyer on move-in. Our office has handled many calls from sellers looking to have their ducts cleaned either because they are getting ready to list their home and want to increase its attractiveness to a prospective buyer, or they already have a buyer and said buyer has made air duct cleaning a condition of purchase. Unfortunately, sellers on their way out often choose the lowest tier of service, which may or may not suffice for the condition of their ducts—particularly if it's been a long time since they've been cleaned.
Besides being potentially unfair to the buyer, this choice could complicate matters for both buyer and seller at closing. We've observed on occasion that after a maintenance-level duct cleaning was ordered by the seller—believed sufficient to fulfill their obligation--an inspector on final walk-through determined the air ducts to be insufficiently clean, thus delaying the closing. This is a situation no one wants to find themselves in.
Carolynn, with Coldwell Banker Burnet, represented a buyer a few years ago who was highly allergic to cats. When this client set her sights on a house whose occupants owned several, they decided to amend the purchase agreement with a stipulation that the sellers have the air ducts and carpet cleaned prior to purchase. The sellers did so and then provided the receipt to the title company prior to closing so everything would be in order. The closing went off without a hitch, but as a precaution, considering her client's allergies and the ubiquity of pet dander, Carolynn recommended her client have the process repeated on move-in, ensuring her environment was as free of allergens as it could be.
Dryer vent cleaning
Because dryer vent cleaning is critical to home fire safety, it's an HVAC cleaning task that should be performed regularly. The seller should be asked when this service was last performed, and if not within the past year, the buyer should see to it shortly after move-in (if not prior to purchase).
Examination of the dryer exhaust system falls well within the purview of home inspection and thus this system will be looked at by the buyer's inspector. They will check, among other things, that the vent line terminates outside the home, that the correct type of venting material is used, and that there is no screening over the exhaust termination (which could trap lint).
Often, however, in the course of cleaning out a dryer vent line, technicians discover hidden irregularities (behind a wall, for example) that were missed during inspection and that could cause significant damage if left unaddressed. In the photo below, for example, we observed a dryer vent that had been exhausting into a floor/ceiling cavity because of a disconnect in the vent line. (Because the visible parts of the vent line were secure—including that from the dryer into the wall behind the machine, and that seen from the exhaust vent outside the house--everything appeared to be normal.) Judging by the amount of lint observed, this condition was present for a couple years before its discovery by our technician, shortly after purchase of the home.
Because HVAC cleaning technicians usually focus on one or two systems during a service rather than the house as a whole, they can sometimes have an advantage over inspectors in discovering defects in a system. In the case of dryer vents, in the process of cleaning the vent line the technician must check for good air flow from the outside exhaust as part of making a determination that the line is clean and clear. When a disconnect is present, air flow from the outside vent will not be achieved, thus prompting the technician to investigate and troubleshoot.
No one wants to move into a home with a dirty chimney or fireplace. But even less desirable than unsightly debris in the firebox is the danger of creosote buildup on the inner walls of the chimney. Creosote forms as the byproduct of wood burning. It builds up inside the chimney over time, inhibiting draft, and, in sufficient quantities, creating a fire hazard. A thorough chimney sweep is definitely in order before use of the fireplace by new homeowners.
While it's important to remove blockages and buildup from the chimney, just as critical is having its structural integrity evaluated in the form of an inspection. Many chimney sweeps offer Level 1 inspections free with a chimney sweeping service, but the CSIA (Chimney Safety Institute of America) recommends a Level 2 inspection on the sale or transfer of a property. This advanced level of inspection will include a video scan of the interior surfaces of the chimney, to look for cracks in the liner or flue tiles and other deficiencies.
The condition of a listed home's chimney will usually be referenced in either the Agent Remarks or the Public Remarks on the MLS listing ("chimney is functional," "chimney needs to be checked," etc) so that the buyer can make a determination as to whether its condition or how thoroughly it's been checked is acceptable to them.
Carolynn, our Minneapolis-based realtor, said that many listing agents will have the chimney checked out before the property is even listed, particularly if it hasn't been used in a long time, in order to avoid any potential liability. She generally recommends that her sellers have an inspection performed so the chimney can be deemed safe, since this can serve as a huge incentive for buyers—and by extension a huge disincentive if it hasn't been done. Many buyers will not even consider a property whose chimney has not been checked, and they themselves do not want to undertake the cost of doing so—or worse, risk purchasing the home only to find out on move-in that the chimney is in a state of disrepair. Chimney repair jobs routinely run into the thousands of dollars.
Ultimately it's up to the buyer and seller and their representatives to hash out which services are appropriate and when, as well as who will cover the cost. With all parties entering the negotiations well-informed and in good faith, the end result should be a smooth transfer of property and a safe and welcoming home environment.
Wanna dig deeper? Explore our HVAC cleaning service pages, including a detailed description of the cleaning process and tools utilized for each system.
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Many thanks to our technician Roy S. for lending his expertise to this article.