Does "buyer beware" still apply?
Q: In one of your articles, you said "buyer beware" is no longer the rule when buying a home. Our recent homebuying experience overrules that opinion. After closing escrow, our dream home became a nightmare. Problems began with backed-up toilets shortly after we moved in. Our plumber found a pair of shredded undershorts in the drain line. He also discovered there are three septic tanks on the property. Besides that, plumbing leaks have rotted the wood in some of the walls. These conditions were never disclosed by the seller, and no one advised us to have a home inspection. We were first-time buyers and didn't have an agent for guidance and direction. Now we are stuck with a "lemon" and can't afford the repair costs. When we complained to the seller, he had the nerve to say "buyer beware." We don't know what to do. Can you please help us?
A: The fact that "buyer beware" is no longer the rule when buying a home does not mean that unscrupulous people will not attempt to avoid honest disclosure. Rather, it means they can no longer do so legally. By law, sellers are required to inform buyers of all known property defects. However, only those who acknowledge and respect the law are likely to keep it.
In all likelihood, the seller of your home was aware of plumbing problems. Given his snide "buyer beware" comment to you, he apparently felt no obligation to disclose any defects. Therefore, he is in violation of real estate disclosure laws and should be financially accountable for damages.
Unfortunately, enforcing liability after the fact can be a long and costly legal process, with no guarantee of a positive outcome. Regardless of whether you take legal action, you need to know the full extent of the defects in your home. Therefore, the first thing to do is to hire a qualified home inspector to evaluate the condition of the property. Given what you've already discovered, you can expect other defects to be disclosed by a competent inspector. Once you have the full picture, in the form of a home inspection report, you can get legal advice on possible ways to proceed against the seller. The costs of formal litigation are prohibitive, but a far more economical approach would be to file an action in small claims court. An attorney can advise you on the best ways to present your case to a small claims judge.
Q: I'm in escrow to buy a home and am having problems with defect disclosure. The seller keeps coming up with reasons why he's not required to disclosure anything, and his real estate agent hid the fact that he has been living in the home. What should I do?
A: You are clearly dealing with ethically compromised individuals. If the agent is making false disclosures, this should be reported to the state agency that licenses real estate agents. It would also be advisable to find another property to purchase, rather than risking further dealings with these people. The way they've treated you thus far is clear warning that it's time to move on.
• 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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