The home of your dreams could become a nightmare if you skip an important inspection before
you close! Unfortunately, in my time as a real estate agent, I’ve heard of many otherwise
responsible buyers who overlooked two inspections with disastrous consequences: oil tank
sweeps and chimney inspections.
I recommend these inspections to my clients for two reasons. First, the threat can be hard for a
novice to spot, and second, the cost of the damage can be enormous. To make sure that you
don’t make the same mistake, check out the information below. I’ll tell you why these
inspections matter so much and how you can find an expert you can trust to handle them.
Oil Tank Sweeps
Oil tank sweeps are done to verify that there are no unknown oil tanks on the property. This is
one of the most common inspections in the Monmouth Countys area, and for good reason.
Residential homeowners are no longer allowed to keep oil tanks on their property, even
deactivated ones. Mortgage companies won’t even offer mortgages to those buying houses that
still have tanks on the property.
After all, they are home and environmental safety hazards from a bygone era, and they can
mean a LOT of trouble. These tanks were phased out with changing technology in the early
1900s. Unfortunately, even in the short time they were around, they developed a reputation for
ruining water supplies around them.
Because the risk of soil and water table contamination is so high wherever these tanks are
found, they have to be removed immediately (at the property owner’s expense) if there is any
reason to suspect a leak. After the tank is removed, samples are taken from the bottom and
sent for testing. If the soil is contaminated, the homeowner may be on the hook for hundreds of
thousands in cleaning costs!
The homeowner is the one with responsibility for the oil tank, so make sure that homeowner
isn’t you! Check for the hookups as part of the general inspection before you buy. If you see
them, you need to schedule an appointment with an oil tank sweeper who will take to the yard
with a metal detector to find the tank.
The homeowner should cover any oil sweep costs. And remember, don’t sign any contract that
makes you responsible for any environmental or structural issues related to the tank.
A chimney is one of the most hidden expenses of a house, and I try to make sure my clients
never forget an inspection. Chimneys can cost tens of thousands in maintenance and repair.
Regular inspectors will often recommend that a chimney inspection be performed separately to
ensure that no standout issues are missed.
Unfortunately, some homeowners show something less than candor when discussing the life of
their fireplace. Everyone has different definitions of “light use” and “heavy use”, and that’s why
you need your own inspection, and not the word of the homeowner. In any case where my
clients have refused an inspection, I require that decision in writing. Chimneys are so reliably
riddled with problems that I can bear liability if I don’t warn them about the necessity of an
So what can go wrong with a chimney? Quite a bit, starting with
- The lining. The lining protects the home from the high heat of fireplace, so it is not a
maintenance requirement that can be ignored. It can be expensive to replace, and it’s
very difficult to judge the quality of the lining without a thorough inspection.
- The chimney openings. The openings of the chimney, both in the house and on the
roof can crumble and separate from the rest of the structure. Redoing the brickwork and
re-attaching it to the house is incredibly expensive work.
A chimney must be built to code before the costs of maintenance even become a concern, and
unfortunately, many chimneys built in homes all over the state are not.
The problems can be spotted by a chimney inspector. Make sure you hire a specialist in
chimneys rather than rely too much on the general inspector. The chimney inspection cost can
range anywhere from $100-$200 for a service call. The advantage they have over a non-
specialist is their technology (they often use cameras to catch issues that are otherwise
impossible), and their familiarity with the factors that lead to fire risk.
Don’t close until these Inspections are Complete!
Save yourself from a nightmare scenario in your dream home by getting your oil tank sweep and
chimney inspection squared away before you buy! It could save you tens of thousands, if not