Kurt Thompson

Through the excitement and anticipation of purchasing a new home, buyers are considering so many options for their new home; furnishings, renovations, paint colors are all top of mind. Safety is not often the first thought, perhaps with the exception of changing the locks and security alarm codes.  

Fire safety is something that many of us take for granted. Since 1979, Massachusetts residents seeking to sell or transfer ownership of their homes are required by law to have a certified inspection of smoke detectors before the closing. In 2005, an additional requirement was made to also include the inspection of carbon monoxide detectors.  

The goal was to make sure that new residents would move into a property with working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. For 41 years, sellers have worked with their local fire departments to coordinate the inspection. An inspector from the fire department, using the date your home was built and the date the last building permit was issued, figures out the smoke and carbon monoxide alarm requirements for the home. Battery-powered smoke alarms that are more than 10 years old or have expired must be replaced with alarms with 10-year, sealed, non-rechargeable, non-replaceable batteries. They must be photoelectric and have a hush feature to silence nuisance alarms. 

On March 30 of this year, an emergency order issued by Gov. Charlie Baker due to the coronavirus state of emergency changed the inspection requirement. The sale and transfer of residential properties may now be deferred for up to 90 days after the state of emergency is lifted if certain legal conditions are met. This change occurred as many fire departments across the commonwealth suspended their inspections due to safety concerns with entering homes to perform the inspections.  

The safety of fire service professionals was paramount; the state needed to make sure that firefighters did not contract COVID-19 and fire departments had enough healthy team members to be able to respond to a potential fire or emergency. 

13K Transactions at Risk 

As fire departments began suspending inspections, over 13,000 transactions were pending a closing, many of which needed a smoke and carbon monoxide detector certificate of compliance.  

The Massachusetts Association of Realtors partnered with the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services to develop a temporary compromise that would allow transactions to close, allow residents to move into their new homes in order to have shelter during the pandemicand also protect those new homeowners moving forward. Smoke and carbon monoxide alarm inspections for the sale and transfer of residential properties may now be deferred until 90 days after thestate of emergency is lifted if certain legal conditions are met. 

The buyer must agree to immediately equip the home with smoke and carbon monoxide alarms that meet the code requirements and notify their local fire department within 72 hours.  

Filing this notice is incredibly important as it lets firefighters know how many and which homes need to be inspected when the state of emergency ends. The requirements include that the buyer will inspect the smoke and carbon detectors and replace or upgrade as necessary. The buyer might have to engage a third-party vendor to upgrade the detectors.  

The Massachusetts Association of Realtors partnered with the Fire Prevention Association of Massachusetts to survey the latter’s members to see whether or not they are continuing to provide inspections. According to the survey, 80 percent of fire services that responded are not doing inspections at this time, but that number is changing almost daily as fire departments reevaluate inspections. 

In areas where inspections are still taking place the best option is to have an in-person inspection if it is possible, while practicing social distancing. The Boston Fire Department is currently still performing inspections and in other communities are now also beginning to perform inperson inspections.   

Many residents across the commonwealth have spent significantly more time in their homes over the past weeks, which makes now a great time for all of us to check our smoke and carbon monoxide detectors for proper functionality and to make sure that they are not expired. For more information about how to perform a review, visit the Fire Prevention section of Mass.gov. 

Kurt Thompson is the 2020 president of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors and a broker with Keller Williams Realty - North Central in Leominster.    

Realtors, Fire Departments Team Up to Keep Home Sales Moving

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 3 min