Home Buyers’ Guide: Electrical Pitfalls and How to Manage Them

July 14, 2015 by Valerie Griffiths

Let’s face it: there’s enough stress involved in the home buying process as it is. Worrying about electrical problems shouldn’t be one of them, but unfortunately, problems arise.

The way you handle them is key. It’s important to keep things in perspective to maintain a positive relationship with the sellers. Here we identify the top five electrical issues to beware of when you’re buying a home and how to best manage them.

This list will prevent you from making unreasonable demands, spending too much out of your own pocket, or mistakenly walking away from the home of your dreams.

Electrical Pitfall #1: Aluminum wiring, or knob and tube wiring

  • The Deal: These were common back in the day (the 1960’s and 1970’s for aluminum wiring, and 1880-1940 for knob and tube), but are considered outdated and dangerous today. Single-strand aluminum wiring can void a home insurance policy, and insurers may not cover homes with knob and tube wiring at all.
  • Our Recommendation: This can be one costly, time-consuming, and absolutely necessary repair. Get an estimate from a licensed electrician and consider deducting the potential costs from your offer price.

Electrical Pitfall #2:Faulty electrical outlets

  • The Deal: If they’re not grounded, are charred or blackened, appear loose, or show exposed wires, they need to be looked at by a professional. They’re posing a safety risk as is.
  • Our Recommendation: It depends how many and to what degree. It’s definitely not worth compromising a good deal over a couple of fault outlets. But if there are problems throughout the home you’ll want them addressed ahead of time

Electrical Pitfall #3: Faulty or outdated electrical panel

  • The Deal: Outdated electrical panels might not trip when they’re supposed to, presenting significant fire hazard. You could be looking at a bill of $1,000 – $3,000 or more for this upgrade.
  • Our Recommendation: You’ll want to talk to the sellers about making it happen, or renegotiate your offer to accommodate.

Electrical Pitfall #4: Faulty wiring

  • The Deal: Exposed wires, spliced wires, poor connections, and wiring that is damaged or improperly installed can be a major issue. It presents significant risk of fire, shock, and electrocution.
  • Our Recommendation: An exposed wire or two can easily be taken care of by your licensed electrician. But if there are problems throughout the home, you’ll want to have them assessed, and possibly request that the sellers take care of the issues before you purchase.

Electrical Pitfall #5: Insufficient power supply

  • The Deal: This is common in older homes. They simply weren’t built to meet today’s energy demands, so it’s important to know that going in. It’s not practical to run extension cords in every room; you’ll overload the system. Can you live with the number of outlets that exist, or will you be lost without greater capabilities?
  • Our Recommendation: Consider whether you can live with the electrical capacity of the home as is, or whether an upgrade is absolutely necessary for you to move forward. If it is, consider the type of home you’re knowingly buying, and whether the seller should be held responsible. Perhaps this is a cost you’ll need to absorb yourself, post-purchase.

Remember: everything is negotiable, and there’s nothing saying you have to move forward if you’re uncomfortable. Talk with your real estate agent, home inspector, and licensed electrician about what is going on in the home. Be clear on the issues and the costs involved, and make decisions accordingly.