A gentleman contacted Curren Environmental regarding a house of his deceased in-laws. His wife is the executor of the estate and lives local to the property. Her parents who recently passed away, purchased their home only 2 years ago, moving from their previous home where they lived for over 50 years. Now, her parents’ home needs to be sold. With all estates, you have the executor who is burdened with managing all the affairs, payment of bills and disbursement of assets with typically the home being the largest and most difficult assist to deal with. Now, you also have the relatives and typically the beneficiaries of the estate that don’t do much but complain about how slow the executor is in disbursing the monies. The heirs or as some people say THEIRS, want their share pronto (mourning is over) and they are impatient and do not understand what the delay is when disbursing the monies Mom and Dad left for them. This is an extremely common scenario particularly when the average time it takes to settle an estate is one year.
This photos shows a more serios tank leak where the oil leaked deeper into the water table. The seller would not allow the buyer to do any testing before purchase.
Being an executor of an estate is a difficult, thankless job as I just tried to explain. Being the executor of an estate with an oil tank is an even bigger headache. In our scenario the last asset to manage is the home sale and failure comes quick. The home we are discussing was as I stated just purchased 2 years ago and is in good shape as the parents had a home inspection and prior owners addressed the short laundry list of items the home inspector found, so the sale by all the heirs accounts should be fast and smooth, right? Yes and no, the house found a buyer that loved the house, neighborhood and price. House was being sold as is and the buyers were ok with that. Problem was the house was of the era when oil heat was likely used (home is on natural gas) and the buyers wanted a tank scan. The Executor didn’t even know what a tank scan was and was informed by their attorney that if a tank was found, they would have to disclose it to future buyers in the event the deal went south.
The heirs to the estate (brother & sister) lived in Florida, where oil tank problems are like unicorns and were completely baffled as to why this type of inspection would be necessary. Now the internet is a vast trove of information where you can learn then become quite confused. The executor googled Oil Tank Leak New Jersey and saw some alarming (scary) web pages, so they denied the prospective home buyers the rights to perform a tank scan. (buyers were just out of their inspection period, so it was within the rights of the owner to deny the inspection). So the deal died and the executor and heirs were anxious for the next buyer.
The estate found another buyer and in the contract removed the right to do any tank sweeps and provided a statement that they were unaware of any oil tanks. Again this buyer fell through, upon the advice of their realtor and attorney who both knew the risk of an oil tank (expensive to cleanup oil tank leaks and whoever owns the property owns the problem) and they canceled their offer to purchase. Now the house sat, realtors talk as do neighbors, word on the street the property had an oil tank problem that the owners would not address. You see realtors talk about what deals are happening and why deals fall apart, neighbors also are aware when a house gets a for sale sign, an under contract sign and then gets a for sale sign again
In this situation the husband of the executor contacted our office and relayed the story you were just told. He wanted to know if he could inspect the dwelling for an oil tank so that he would know if there was an oil tank. He didn’t want a report of a tank scan, he just wanted to know one way or another so they could settle this issue. (the brother in Florida was getting real impatient and couldn’t understand the holdup) What was Curren Environmental’s advice?
- It was ill-advised to deny the buyer the option of performing a tank scan, it made the owner look like they were hiding something. We asked how would you feel if you were denied an inspection for a property you were buying?
- Even though the sale was As Is, oil tanks don’t fall into As Is sales as you can’t walk a site and determine the expense involved with cleaning up an oil tank, that can cost thousands of dollars to just diagnosis the problem. It is far easier to get contractors to walk a property and provide rough budgets for roof repair, bathroom remodel, kitchen updating, tank issues cannot be evaluated so easily - unless you have X-ray vision. Bottom line, the tank scan should have been performed.
- The question to our office regarding what indications would indicate the presence of an oil tank was a red flag, it typically means that the person wants to hide this evidence. WE indicated that they should stop going in the direction of looking for evidence of a tank, you see we were already in agreement that the age of the home (Pre 1985) was a sign that the house may have had oil heat. In fact this house was built in 1920, and no doubt had coal heat, which was converted to oil heat after WWII and then ultimately natural gas.
- If the sellers stayed on the course they were on (denying an oil tank sweep), they may find a buyer, that may buy the house and an oil tank may be found in the future (possible during the next transaction or by a home improvement, or neighbor talking about how the neighborhood had oil heat and their house has a buried oil tank). Now at this point where an owner finds an oil tank, old owners typically get sued. The problems with estates and oil tanks are by this time, the estate is dissolved and monies are disbursed, so the parties getting sued are the heirs to the estate.
- The best course of action is to allow the oil tank inspection, if no tank is found no harm no foul. If a tank is found, be aware of what many tank removal companies will not tell you, (1) not all tanks leak, (2) not all tanks that leak require remediation and (3) oil tank that leaks that are so costly and detailed in the scary Google search of Oil Tank Leaks, are rare, but that is what people see when they research oil tanks.
- Better to perform a tank scan, if an oil tank is found, remove the oil tank. This is preferable to hiding any tank issue and than be sued afterwards. Bottom line, you can’t go stick the oil tank problem on the next person, it is unethical and immoral and the buyer will find an attorney that will sue you. Let’s say your property has an oil tank and you have to spend money to remove and remediate, well whatever that cost is $5,000.00 or $8,000.00 or whatever amount, that is a cost the estate must bear. Whatever the estate is worth, it is worth that amount less whatever the cost of the tank issue is, If there even was an oil tank.
What to know the ending of this story, what happen to the estate? Did the siblings in Florida get help? Did the first buyer come back to buy the house after doing a tank scan? Call our office to find out at 856-858-9509 or email us at info@CurrenEnvironmental.com. Curren offers a free consultation to address your oil tank questions; we know you have one because you just read our story. (Check out this story from an Estate in CA)