rookie homeowners
September 15, 2014 2:04 PM   Subscribe

Is asking questions of the previous owner of one's new house a thing that people do?

Bought our house in April of this year, took possession in July, and from April to shortly after we moved in I've had to send the previous owners (whom we've never met) a few questions, which I always did through our realtors. These were questions that either A) I could not figure out myself, because we had not yet taken posession of the house (homeowners insurance questionnaire), or B) I might have been able to figure out, but not before a lot of time and/or money were spent. There have only been four instances, and I got responses on all but one of the emails, and though they didn't answer fully and sometimes required prompting, the answers were more or less sufficient. (I can provide more details on the questions I asked if anyone feels it's relevant / interesting.)

I feel it is reasonable to ask questions of the previous owner, up to a point. I would be happy to answer reasonable questions, if it was me. But I have a nagging suspicion that I may be annoying the sellers, and that by now I really should be figuring things out for myself.

Which brings me to the second part of my question: the hot tub that came with the house needs to be cleaned, drained, etc. before we can use it, and I'm fine with figuring it out for myself / asking professionals / Googling etc., which I've done but now I've hit a snag. I cannot find the valve for draining the tub. It's not where the owner's manual says it should be (along the "skirt"), so I suspect it's in the equipment compartment, which neither I nor my husband can figure out how to open. The cover is just a loose board on one side of the tub, and no amount of jiggling/pushing/pulling will get it to open. Picture here. Every other side of the tub is solid, so that's really the only possibility. It's an older model, Coast Spas SSPA1, and the control panel looks like this.

So my question has two parts: 1. is asking questions of the previous owners a thing that people do, or do I need to just suck it up and stop bothering them; and 2. if anyone is familiar with the type of hot tub I now own, please let me know how to find the drainage valve and open the equipment compartment!

thanks in advance
posted by Koko to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It is nice of them to help you, but not expected or required. That house is yours and they aren't part of it anymore. If the home has bad memories for them, it may trigger unwanted thoughts when you bring it up. Tread lightly and with much appreciation when help is given.
posted by bensherman at 2:15 PM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

1. It's certainly a thing you can do, though as far as I know there's no clear etiquette rules one way or another. If I got an email from someone who bought my house regarding something like this I'd answer it if I could, but I'd also be a little wary about it (e.g. "What do you mean you cut off the drain valve!?!). If I were in your shoes I'd ask but not be miffed if I didn't get a response.

I can't help you with #2.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:17 PM on September 15, 2014

It depends on the seller, and how you feel about communicating with them.

With my first house, I never contacted the seller after the closing, but I never had to.

With my current house, the seller willingly shared their e-mail address with me. I've sent 5 e-mails to them in the 3 years since. 4 of these had to do with their postal mail still coming to the house and what kinds of mail I should forward to them. Another was a question on transferring the warranties on the HVAC units; I needed some documentation from them to effect the transfer.

About two years after we bought the house, the seller e-mailed me to tell me they had gotten a notice in the mail that there was a recall on our dishwasher; I received the same notice in the mail the same day (addressed to Previous Owner Or Current Resident).

This hot tub issue sounds like something I would not bother the prior owner with. It sounds like something you can find with Google or by calling out a hot tub service company (which you should probably be doing anyway, as I think hot tubs have annual maintenance that needs to be done). I've never owned a hot tub, so I don't know.
posted by tckma at 2:18 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's a thing for me, but the questions I had were more along the lines of "What was the wallpaper like when you moved in?" and "Did you find anything interesting in the closets?" That sort of small sociohistorical stuff.

I don't know if you'll get much information from the previous sellers about household details, unfortunately. It does sound like they either don't know the answers to your questions, or they are done with the house and feel like it's not their deal anymore.

Regarding the hot tub: Is it possible that the deck was built around it and you can't get access? That would be irritating but not unlikely. Look for a hinge along the top edge of that loose panel, too.
posted by vickyverky at 2:19 PM on September 15, 2014

Looking at your first picture, it appears that there was a hole cut in the deck to accommodate the hot tub. How high is the deck off the ground? Can you get under the deck? Is it possible that the drain valve is located under the deck?
posted by tckma at 2:20 PM on September 15, 2014

I have a hot tub similar to the one on the picture. There is a drain valve in the bottom of one of the corners. If you only need to drain it for cleaning purposes however, you could just use a small pump or even a hose to drain the water out. I only use the bottom drain valve if I need to winterize the tub. Also, I never needed to access the equipment panel, everything is done from the outside.
posted by ddaavviidd at 2:40 PM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

You can ask. They don't have to answer. There's no harm in trying.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:42 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I did this with the person I bought my house from. I couldn't figure out part of the gas fireplace and they had me check if a bank statement got sent here by mistake. Mine was a FSBO, but I'd expect working through realtors wouldn't make a difference.

One other option - did you have a home inspection? Perhaps the inspector can help, as they tend to see a fair amount of different appliances/electronics in the course of their work.
posted by Twicketface at 3:17 PM on September 15, 2014

Best answer: If the sellers have you their contact information and you forward them mail etc asking 2-4 questions is fine. We asked about paint colors in our house when we were having trouble matching the paint.

Anything that can be googled or someone could be reasonably hired to sort out you should deal with on your own. Given that most home sales go through lawyers and agents it's an impersonal connection between parties that should stay that way.
posted by saradarlin at 3:25 PM on September 15, 2014

Adding: You have already asked 4 questions of the sellers. I think you are out of questions unless they are literally the only people in the world who could help you (what's up with the skeleton buried in the garden?).
posted by saradarlin at 3:26 PM on September 15, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: We have email contact with the people who sold us our house, and we've corresponded related to mail forwarding. When they moved out they spent about 45 minutes with us giving us a walkthrough and going over all the electrical/heating/plumbing and answering whatever questions we had about neighbors, parking, etc. Even then, I think the bar would be pretty high for me to reach out to ask how-to types of questions, especially as months go by since the sale.

One thing to keep in mind is that they might be concerned about opening themselves up to liability based on what they reply in writing. For example, they might accidentally state something that contradicts how they filled out their disclosures. Or what happens if they tell you that you just need to pull on the panel hard, and some mechanism breaks off or jams shut? There's not a lot of benefit to them, beyond karma, to continuing to answer questions or help you through problems, and they are under no obligation to help you save time and money. A home sale is likely the most expensive transaction someone will ever be involved in, and a buyer or seller is right to be cautious about mitigating risk. Impersonal is best for everyone - think if the tables were turned and they started pinging you every other month asking how the plants in the yard were coming up or whether the growth chart on the pantry door was still there.

Also, the fact they didn't respond to one of them, and are responding in a not fully forthcoming manner, indicates they are uncomfortable with the exchanges.
posted by handful of rain at 3:44 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If I sold a house, I would consider it not my problem anymore and find your emails pretty irritating.
posted by ktkt at 3:46 PM on September 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Welcome to home ownership. Don't bother the previous owners. Line up your plumber/pool guy/handyman or learn to do those things yourself. Youtube is a great resource. You can't be calling the previous owners everytime there is drip, creak or other minor issue. If the previous owners had any major work done that still has warranties (foundation work, sewer line replaced, etc.) then they should give you the paper work for that but really you shouldn't bother them.
posted by Grumpy old geek at 3:58 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

From the seller's point of view, when we sold the house that we had lived in for 25 years and had invested a considerable amount of sweat, blood, tears and money into, we went took several extra steps to make sure that the new owners had everything they needed, including a file box full of manuals for all the appliances and other components, several pages of tips for various quirky features, a little history, contacts for useful service providers, etc. Plus, against advice of real estate agent, we gave them a pre-closing tour of the garden (which they have maintained magnificently), and we stopped by several times in the years afterward to see what they had done with the place, each time welcomed and given a tour. They have only asked a few questions, but even a decade later, I would welcome any inquiry they might have.

All that said, your hot tub question is the kind of thing you ought to be able to figure out for yourself.
posted by beagle at 4:01 PM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I left my buyers a binder with the names and numbers of the trades-people, menus of places that deliver, instructions for how to deal with different systems in the house and an explanation that the rat-tat-tat you hear on Sunday mornings is a woodpecker. If I got an email from them I'd happily answer the question.

But were I you, I'd call a pool guy to come over to take care of it for you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:17 PM on September 15, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers. I think I'm right to suspect I should leave them alone now.
posted by Koko at 6:35 PM on September 15, 2014

Best answer: I recently sold a house and then bought another. I gave the buyers a packet with all the product information for appliances and household systems, plus a list of any contractors who had done work on the house, partly because it's the decent thing to do and partly because I didn't want to be getting a bunch of calls about basic stuff. Twice I have gotten a call from contractors doing work on the place asking really practical questions (like where to find the main sprinkler shut-off valve, things like that) which I was happy to answer. I wouldn't be happy to get a bunch of calls from the owner asking simple things that anyone should be able to figure out.

The sellers of my new place didn't do either of those things and it's been a big pain because there are things that are much more easily solved by being able to call the person who did the original work. I regret not asking for that information during the purchase; it's been too long now to ask for it without it being uncomfortable (particularly given that it was clear that the sale was emotionally fraught for them).

But in the spirit of "people are different," i have a friend who is in regular contact with both the previous owner of his current house and the current owner of his previous house. They call each other to ask about minor issues, chat about decoration plans, and so on. He'd love a call about how to drain the hot tub and if it was hard to explain would probably come over and show you how to do it. This is very much a situation where you have to read the room and see what that specific person is comfortable with, rather than a case of having clear rules that everyone follows.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:28 PM on September 15, 2014

I don't have your hot tub, but the drain on our hot tub is useless. It would probably take 10 hours to drain the hot tub. But a $50 submersible pump that you can attach to a garden hose and use that - even the 1/8 (I think) hp pump that we have drains the tub in about 90 minutes making this not be a full day job. I like and google for my hot tub and pool questions.

It's not uncommon for there to be questions, but there's no obligation to answer. For our current house, the previous occupants (who'd lived there ~25 years) actually met us for about an hour a few days before we moved in, and walked us through the house. The told us about a few switches that might be otherwise hard to figure out, they walked us through the opening and closing of the pool (I read up anyways to be sure, and there's some things I do different), and talked a bit about the neighbors. That was above and beyond what's standard - this was mainly for pool opening/closing but they through in a quick walkthrough of the rest of the house. This was before we took possession. It mostly makes up for them not forwarding their mail :)

For the two houses we've sold we haven't received any questions, and no questions post-sale for our other house. Like Rutherless bunny, we left them binders of information. All of the manuals/receipts for any improments/appliances, but also our favourite restaurants, and notes about the wildlife and which shrubs to consider not trimming because OneBun really liked living there.

After 3 months, if they're not super chatty and friendly (and need prompting) with you I'd say it's time to give it a rest. Welcome to the "adventure" of home owning. Wait until your first time that you have water coming from a ceiling!
posted by nobeagle at 6:15 AM on September 16, 2014

It's yours now! :7)

That said, when I sold my last house, I set up a GMail account (named after the address) and had it forward everything to me. The previous owners asked me a couple of questions in the first year, and also let me know about some mis-directed mail.

We haven't heard from them in several years now, but it helped make them -- as first-time buyers -- a little more comfortable with the huge transaction. And it was a gesture of good faith that we weren't dumping a lemon on them and running.

(Handing off binders full of records & receipts was nice, but being available to help understand those papers -- and the house's history -- was at least as valuable.)
posted by wenestvedt at 6:49 AM on September 16, 2014

I agree with those who say you probably have to access the drainage valve underneath the deck. When we put ours in, we had a removable hatch in the deck so we didn't have to crawl underneath. You (or a handyperson) could put one in, I bet.

If you're still lost I'd ask the manufacturer. They may refer you to a local dealer, but you might want to know who that is anyhow in case of any bigger problems.
posted by cabingirl at 11:24 AM on September 16, 2014

Response by poster: It does look like there's a cutaway in the deck floor, right in front of the tub. Doesn't budge though.
posted by Koko at 1:14 PM on September 16, 2014

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