Foundation worries arise after home sale
Q: Before buying our home we hired a home inspector. He noticed a few minor problems, and the seller agreed to repair these before we completed the sale. But after we moved in, one of our neighbors mentioned a foundation problem that may or may not have been corrected. The sellers' disclosure statement had mentioned "possible foundation movement in the early '70s," but we didn't think much of it at the time. When we called the sellers and their agent, we were told that the foundation condition is a "nonissue." Is the seller, the agent or the home inspector liable for faulty disclosure?
A: If evidence of a foundation or settlement problem was visible at the time of the home inspection, your inspector should have noted this in the report. If no signs of past settlement were apparent, the inspector would not be at fault. In either event, lack of discovery by the inspector does not relieve you, the buyer, of the responsibility to exercise "due diligence." If the sellers' disclosure statement mentioned a history of previous building settlement, you could have requested further details, and your inspector should have been advised of these concerns, rather than allowing the issue to remain unheeded until after the sale.
As for the agent, skirting a potential foundation problem by calling it a "nonissue" is highly unprofessional, unless that person is also a licensed structural engineer. A more fitting response would have been to advise further disclosure.
At this point, you need to determine whether a foundation problem truly exists. There may, in fact, never have been a major problem, or an old problem may have been adequately corrected. For clarification, have the foundation evaluated by a licensed structural engineer.
If no problem is found, you can stop worrying about it. If foundation problems are confirmed, then all parties to the sale may share in the liability: the sellers for inadequate disclosure, the agent for lack of professional advisement, the home inspector if visible symptoms were missed, and you, the buyer, for not taking reasonable steps to protect your own financial interests.
Q: When I bought my home, the inspector disclosed numerous defects, but my agent advised me not to worry. He said the warranty company would fix everything after the purchase. I trusted this advice, signed off on all defects, but now find that warranty policies do not cover preexisting conditions. How can I address this unfair situation?
A: If you were told that the home warranty company would pay for preexisting conditions, you were definitely misled. If warranty companies did business in that manner, they would soon be bankrupt. The purpose of a home inspection is not to make a repair list for the warranty company. It is to advise you, the buyer, of existing problems so you can decide whether to purchase the property as-is, ask the sellers to make repairs, ask for a price adjustment, or cancel the contract. In your present circumstance, you may not have recourse unless you can convince a judge you were falsely advised to file repair claims with the warranty company. A real estate attorney can advise you further in assessing this situation.
• 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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