Q: I’ve lived on the West Coast my whole life, but in 2006 decided to buy a place on the East Coast to move into. I found a place on the Web, called the listing agent and bought it (I did get an inspection from a contractor she knew, but he didn’t find any big problems.)
I moved there for one month before I had to move right back out because I was constantly sick. After extensive testing, I learned that the house was riddled with mold from a leaky, unsafe addition that the previous sellers had put on the house without permits. When we went to get the permits for all the mold repairs, the city actually ordered me to tear the addition off — the problem was, the addition was about a third of the house’s square footage!
I decided to stay where I was and just sell the East Coast house, but in order to even put it on the market, I had to tear down the addition and do all the mold work, which cost me over $50,000. It is on the market now, but now I owe so much more than it is worth that I have to do a short sale.
I’m suing the sellers now, because there are many indicators that they knew about the mold and the addition’s problems and concealed them, but put all their money from selling this place to me into their next house, which they’ve homesteaded, and that house has depreciated, too. They’re also from a foreign country, so we feel they’re likely to just move back if we get a large judgment. What should I have done differently?
A: I pride myself on not being a knee-jerk-type gal. However, my knee-jerk reaction to stories of this sort is always to track back to inspections to ferret out where things went wrong. I know you had a property inspection — did you attend it? Attending inspections is how smart buyers get the dirt (or the mold, in your case) on all the suspicions, suggestions and solutions the inspectors can’t or won’t write down due to company policies, liability reasons or because it’s not strictly within the scope of the formal inspection. Had you been there, in living color, your inspector might have suggested that you explore the legality of the addition, either of his own accord or as the culmination of a conversation with you.
And who did your inspection? You mentioned a contractor, but the proper professional to conduct a pre-purchase property inspection is a certified property inspector who also holds a state license, if your state offers or requires one. Whether your inspector had an insurance policy that would cover your damages from their errors and omissions — like missing major construction defects in the addition, whether or not it was built with permits — was also an important qualification that it sounds like might have been missing.
Also, you don’t mention whether you read the inspection report and/or followed up on any excluded items or recommendations for further, special inspections — many buyers don’t, and can often trace the problem that they felt "shoulda, woulda and coulda" been detected back to a specialists’ inspection they "shoulda, woulda and coulda" obtained if only they had read their property inspectors’ report and followed up on the recommended further inspections. Should your real estate agent have pointed these things out to you? Of course, in an ideal world (which you might have figured out by now is not precisely identical to the actual world in which we live). But whose responsibility is it to read your inspection reports and ensure that all information relevant to making an informed decision whether to buy a property is in your possession before your contingency or objection period expires? Yours. …CONTINUED