Dear Barry,

Before we bought our home, the entire place was jam-packed with stuff, not just throughout the house, but in the garage and around the outside of the building as well. The sellers disclosed a few problems–a leaning retaining wall and a crack in the driveway–but it was hard for our home inspector to find much else, owing to the clutter. Once we moved in, the impact of this became clear. Now we can see the bulge in the garage foundation, signs of settlement in the rear bedroom, mold on the walls, and a list of other defects. Even with a home inspection, we bought the house sight-unseen. How could we have prevented this, and what can we do now? –Joe

Dear Joe,

As a condition of the sale, just prior to closing, the seller should have vacated the property to enable a final walkthrough inspection. A walkthrough is standard procedure when buying a home, ensuring that no vital areas of the property are concealed from sight and that no defect discoveries are unreasonably prevented. Had this routine process taken place, the foundation problems, the mold issue, and various other defects would then have been apparent. Had there been a walkthrough, a list of property defects that should have been disclosed by the sellers would then have come to light, the purchase could have been put on hold, and negotiations with the sellers could have been re-opened. Instead, concealed defects were purchased on faith, and you have been left with an armload of costly surprises.

On the basis of disclosure requirements, the sellers are clearly in the wrong. They should have informed you of all visible defects. Even if they were unaware of problems concealed behind their clutter, obvious flaws would have been revealed to them when they finally removed their mess. Whether early or late in the transaction, it was their obligation to divulge whatever they knew to be problematic.

Now that the milk is spilt, your options are limited. To begin, the newly discovered defects need professional evaluation, including an engineering review of the foundation and cost estimates for necessary repairs. Finally, you’ll need to inform the sellers of the newly revealed status of the property and to request that they contribute to the repair process. If they are not willing to pay for undisclosed defects, you’ll have to consider whether legal action is worth the additional cost and aggravation.

Dear Barry,

When we bought our home, the seller agreed to repair the roof. But winter weather prevented this at that time. So the seller left money in an escrow account to pay for later work. Here’s my question: I’m able to do my own roof repairs and would like to save money by doing the job myself. How can I get approval for this kind of arrangement? –Andrew

Dear Andrew,

The money being held in escrow is apparently part of the seller’s proceeds from the sale of the property. Any savings in the course of roof repairs would thereafter be refunded to the seller. Accordingly, the seller may welcome your offer to make these repairs. However, you will need to assure the seller, in writing, that there will be no further claims if your roof repairs are in any way unsuccessful. You need to make a proposal to the seller to see if your intentions are mutually agreeable.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.

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