St. Louis realtors—here’s what to look out for in a home’s heating and cooling system.
Is this a “kick back and relax” house?
The heating and cooling business has been a huge part of my life since I was a kid. It’s afforded me the chance to meet a lot of great realtors. I’ve known many who can enter a home and, within seconds, detect if it’ll be an excellent value for their buyer.
They’re using their five senses (and sometimes six!) to catch little clues that could mean trouble in the long run. And we can pick up a lot from our five senses when it comes to HVAC issues.
There’s a lot to learn. But the more we catch, the more likely we’ll be able to rescue a buyer from a bad deal. Even more helpfully, you can use what you notice to negotiate on behalf of your buyer—or save your seller a significant amount of hassle!
Here’s what’s at stake: HVAC systems are expensive. If you’ve ever had to replace a bad unit or fix a massive problem at your residence, you know: It’s heartbreaking to sink all that money into something as boring as a furnace!
Of course, it gives guys like me no pleasure to break that news to people, but it’s my job to make sure my clients are comfortable at home.
And comfort matters. A house’s temperature and air quality can make the difference between a happy customer and a dissatisfied one. As someone whose life’s work is to make people feel cozier at home, here are some ways you can make sure your buyer will be happy for years to come.
Who cares if it’s impolite! Ask the age.
First, make sure the furnace and air conditioner are each fewer than fifteen years old. You can often find a date on the unit’s nameplate. You can also look up its age online by finding the serial number, which should also be on the unit.
National averages show us HVAC units older than fifteen years are likely to fail soon. Additionally, AC units manufactured before 2010 may use R-22 freon. As of this year (2020), you can only buy reclaimed and recovered freon, and we expect those prices to skyrocket.
Not just the age, but the mileage.
Ask to see the system’s maintenance and service records. First, find out what services the HVAC system required recently. Look for clues of an ongoing undisclosed problem. You may be able to save your buyer from dealing with that particular issue in the future.
You’ll also want to see if an HVAC tech has performed regular maintenance. In the short run, a well-maintained unit means lower utility costs. In the long run, chances are good it will operate efficiently throughout its fifteen-year life.
When you’re checking the age of the unit, find out who installed it. Though the unit itself may be in fine condition, an unprofessional installation job may mean problems down the road. Every element of a system—including the ductwork, vents, and gas lines—should be calibrated to work together. If the installer didn’t do that work correctly from the beginning, you might be asking for trouble.
When you’re in and around the house, listen for noises you don’t like. For AC units, those banging, clicking, barking, and buzzing sounds are likely indicative of a significant problem.
With furnaces, an occasional “click” when the furnace turns on is normal. But rumblings, booms, and metallic rattles or scrapes are bad news.
Can it handle the house?
One of the best ways to see if the HVAC system is working efficiently is to review the home’s utility bills. If they seem to be on the high side, there’s likely an inefficiency in the system. In these situations, you may find the home doesn’t have the correct equipment for the space.
Next, look at the thermostats. Programmable thermostats are reliable and efficient, and the result is less wear and tear on the HVAC system over time. Zone heating and cooling also benefit the overall system’s longevity and efficiency.
But if you notice one part of the house is a radically different temperature from the rest, there may be a problem in the system—or the house itself.
Third, for the air conditioner, find out what its SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) rating is. A SEER rating is how the manufacturer measures:
- The amount of cool air a unit produces
- Divided by the amount of electricity it uses
14.5 or higher is desirable, and your HVAC pro can help you discover what that is.
Similarly, look for the furnace’s AFUE rating, which stands for Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency. The scale is 1 to 100, and those rated 80 or higher are most desirable. However, different kinds of fuel are more expensive. Using them will cost more, regardless of how efficiently the heater runs.
What’s that weird smell? (It may be the HVAC.)
First, and this is no joke, you should have a gas inspection. For St. Louis area residents, Spire no longer requires them, but I highly recommend them. Natural gas systems are very safe, but for the sake of your buyer and their family, make sure to get the inspection done.
In slightly lighter news, UV light air purifiers can, in some instances, work to eliminate viruses, bacteria, and certain allergens from the ventilation systems. These days, there are better air purification options. Houses that have a funny smell may benefit from one of them.
When to Bring in the Experts
If the house is expensive enough (and your client’s willing), you might bring in an HVAC inspector to check for problems you or your go-to inspector might miss. We’re not vital in every deal. But HVAC inspectors come in when general inspectors see the possibility of a costly problem and need a second opinion.
We get into the nitty-gritty. We have, for example, tools and techniques that enable us to figure out how out-of-season units will perform when the temperature changes. We look for problems and warning signs that take a seasoned professional’s eye.
But as long as you keep your eyes, ears, and nose open, you’ll be able to steer your client in the right direction. Call an HVAC inspector if you start to feel like something may be wrong. It may end up making all the difference to your buyer’s future happiness.