Sunburned: Solar Panels are Non-Negotiable!

This was one of my favorite real life stories …

it is also a Real Estate story.

A few years ago I represented an older couple in selling their home, I mean older than even me. This couple was blissfully into a four year solar lease when they wisely hired me to sell their home. The husband loved his panels so much, that he instructed me that he didn’t care whether buyers assumed the lease on his panels. If a foolish buyer was not interested in the panels, he would simply transfer them to his new home and continue to enjoy the wonderful benefits of solar power. He had confidently told me that he had spoken to the solar company and “it was all good!”

The Power coming from the panels as described by the Seller.

Like a good soldier, I had my marching orders, I found a buyer for the home offering the seller all his terms, but they were undecided about the solar panels. These potential buyers were a lovely old couple. After we were in contract, they wanted to speak to the Seller to learn more about the solar panels. The Seller was very excited to brag to the buyers that the power producing capability of these panels was so immense that when you stood next to the inverters they produced an enormous noise due to the mammoth amounts of electricity flowing through them.

He made it sound like these things had so much juice in them that they were ready to blow any minute and take out half of the neighborhood.

Me on the inside as the Seller brags about the power of the panels

These older buyers stood there frozen in horror as the Seller made it seem that they were all in grave danger just looking at the inverters. I stood there slack jawed at how much the Seller was helping me sell his house.

What the Buyer are imagining could happen any moment!

So in order to avoid a nuclear catastrophe in their new home, the buyers decided against the solar panels. The seller thought this was a rather foolish decision on the buyers’ part – couldn’t they tell by the colossal buzzing noise how much power was being produced? But the Seller didn’t seem deterred because he could just install these technological marvels on his next home. As they say, the devil is in the details. The seller called the solar company to make the transfer arrangements on the solar panels only to discover that wherever his next home was, it had to be serviced by the same electrical provider. He had PG&E here, so he needed to also have PG&E wherever he was going. Second, his new home would need to have enough roof space to accommodate all the panels that were on the current house, plus have adequate sun exposure to produce the same amount of electricity or greater. If these conditions could not be met, then he could not transfer the panels. These requirements made it almost impossible for him to find a new home in fast-moving market that could meet all the requirements. So much for “it’s all good!”

The Buyers self image

So now we were left with buyers scared witless of any green technology and a seller unable to transfer Three-Mile Island to the next house. I called the solar company to discuss removing the panels. The company was almost unable to comprehend the request – we wanted to do what? The company that installed the panels acted almost as if they didn’t even know if such a thing was possible. The laws of physics simply would not allow their removal. They install panels, not remove them! What was wrong with us? Why did we hate the planet and America?

The company spent about a week just trying to convince the frightened buyers to change their minds before they would discuss removing the panels again. This attempt by the solar company at pounding the buyers into submission only terrified them more. After a week, the solar company told us that for the panels to be removed off the roof, the seller had to buy out the remainder of the lease, which would cost him approximately $21,000. This was of course horrible news, but at least the worst was over . . . or so we thought! When we asked how long it would take to get the panels removed, no one could give us an answer. Best guesses were weeks to months. I tried to explain the ‘time is of the essence’ part of a home sales contract, but they were not interested. Then we were told no time estimate would be given until the $21,000 payment was received, but we couldn’t make the payment until the company gave us some secret paperwork which took another week to receive. So, two weeks into the process of asking to have the panels removed and a $21,000 payment later, we were ready to find out when it could be done.

How I suspect decisions were being made by the solar company.

Meantime, I also kept asking the company, should the buyers decide to ever embrace technology again and accept the solar panels, what terms would they be offered? I received different answers on different days. Sometimes it was a huge discount, other times it was simply taking over the current owners lease, or having to sign an entirely new lease for 20 years. I once thought I heard the “tick-tick-tick” sound of some sort of spinning wheel in the background that produced the answers for the account manager. I later confirmed that the right answer was the buyers would assume the existing lease.

Uncertain whether the panels could be removed prior to close of escrow, I tried to negotiate with the buyers to allow the panels to be removed after close of escrow if necessary. I offered to give the buyers clothing made from tin foil and perhaps some hats made from aluminum pasta strainers to protect them from the imaginary radiation created by the panels. Despite my impressive results in getting the buyers to agree to such a dangerous proposition, my herculean efforts were derailed when their lender would not fund the purchase unless the panels were removed prior to close of escrow and a subsequent inspection was made. I began thinking that Karma is a horrible thing, I should have been a better person prior to this transaction. But my extraordinary intellect found a legal loophole to get around the lender hurdle. I was back baby, screw Karma!

Don’t ever say screw Karma, it comes back to bite you quickly!

The buyers wisely asked that a cash credit be left in escrow for roof repairs should it be damaged by the crew of 400 lbs lumberjacks with size 15 boots that were going to be doing some sort of River Dance on the roof while removing the panels. The Seller insisted that he had spoken to the solar company and that they had assured him the roof would be left in perfect condition. The company only hired the smallest and lightest of fairies from Neverland to do such jobs.

I’m confident this is the person I spoke to at the solar company

I called the solar company and asked about their removal repair process. Things were bolted to the roof, how was that repaired? The lady on the phone said, “we weatherize it sir.” I asked what that meant? She replied, “we weatherize it sir.” I heard that the first time. I asked does that mean you pull out the large bolts on the roof holding down the panels and then inject caulk into the holes and nothing more? She replied, “we weatherize it, sir.” Third time, still not any clearer! Now I started getting distracted by thoughts about the movie Groundhog Day. What does that mean? This conversation went nowhere other then to confirm that they weatherize it. At this point if I were representing the buyers, dang straight I’d want to see some money in escrow for roof repairs.

Ultimately, dealing with these now very fragile buyers and with the solar company to get the panels removed plus keeping the lender happy just got too complicated. So, we cancelled the contract and within 24 hours I pulled new buyers out my a** (the word is ‘app’ people, as in MLS app). These were people that embraced the 21st century and all it had to offer. These folks were willing to purchase the house with the solar panels on the roof. This time though, I did not allow the seller to brag about the colossal power of the solar panels to the new buyers!

The moral of this long-winded story is that I will never learn what weatherizing means. Maybe it’s like the Colonels secret chicken recipe or the Coke formula; A well guarded corporate secret? Anyway, I have since sold other homes with solar panel leases and the process for transferring leases is more streamlined, but I did learn something…

Always tell buyers that the panels

CANNOT come off the roof!

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