Q. We plan to sell our home and just discovered it was misrepresented when we bought it three years ago. The listing on the Realtor's website stated the home was in an elementary school district with a very high scholastic rating. It now turns out that it is in the district of one of the worst schools in the area. We didn't discover this until recently because we are no longer raising children. The listing also inflated the lot size by more than 10 percent. The actual lot size is a matter of public record, available online. We contacted the listing agent to ask about these issues. She said the listing clearly states at the bottom that the Realtor is not responsible for the accuracy of the information on the listing. Do we have any recourse?
A. Misrepresentation cannot be whitewashed by simply placing a disclaimer at the bottom of a webpage. If that were a valid excuse, Realtors could freely misrepresent property any way that would make it sell. Mistakes can happen, which is why disclaimers are necessary. But Realtors are professionals and should conduct themselves accordingly when compiling property information for a listing. A disclaimer is not a license for carelessness.
Lot size and quality of schools can directly affect the value of a property. The fact that the home is near a poor quality school will have to be disclosed to future buyers, and this could deter homebuyers who have children. A difference in lot size, however, may or may not affect the market value. That would be a questions for a local real estate appraiser.
As for recourse, that is a legal question that cannot be answered in this column. It is something to be discussed with a real estate attorney.
Q. I sold a house two months after inheriting it from my father. I hadn't lived in it since I was a kid, about 30 years ago, so I had no knowledge of defects to disclose to buyers. Now the buyers are claiming damages from roof leaks that caused mold. They say there are roof patches in several places and are demanding that I pay $17,000 for repairs. My father never told me about any roof problems, and the buyers' home inspector said nothing about it in his report. How can I be responsible for problems I knew nothing about?
A. No one can reasonably expect you to have known about roof problems. Unfortunately, that does not stop people from suing, and the cost of proving one's innocence can be high. In this case, the home inspector is the one who should be answering questions about nondisclosure, especially if the roof defects were observable.
You should consult an attorney to see what your position is according to law. You should also hire a home inspector of your own to look at the house and determine what conditions should have been reported by the buyers' home inspector. Hopefully, the buyers' inspector has insurance for errors and omissions.
Ÿ To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.
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