False disclosure in sale of rebuilt home?

Buyers shocked after learning property's true age

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DEAR BARRY: When we bought our home, the seller and agent said that it was only 2 years old. They did not disclose that it was built on the slab of an old house that had burned to the ground. The septic system, which is also old, has had problems requiring repair, and we’re worried about old pipes that may be installed under the slab. Is anyone responsible for this lack of disclosure? –Vickie

DEAR VICKIE: Problems of this kind could be avoided if homebuyers would consult the local building department for a permit history, prior to closing escrow. Unfortunately, most buyers are not given this advice.

If the seller of your home knew the history of the house (that it was built on an old foundation and that there was an old septic system), that information should have been disclosed. The same obligation applies to the agent, if the history of the property was known.

It is unlikely that the house fire had an adverse effect on the slab or foundation. If the local building department was doing its job, the old foundation should have been inspected and approved when the house was rebuilt. The age of the underground sewer pipes could be an issue if the original home was very old. These can be evaluated by a plumber who does video inspections of waste piping.

The septic system should have been pumped and inspected by a qualified septic contractor before you bought the property. If this was not done, you were not properly advised by your agent. If the age of the system was the reason for recent repairs, the sellers should take responsibility for costs because they did not disclose the true history of the property.

You should write a letter to the sellers and the agent, making your request for payment, as well as an explanation for the lack of disclosure.

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DEAR BARRY: Our home was built in the 1960s. Recently, a wind damage report caused our homeowners insurance company to raise the premiums. Our insurance agent says it’s because the house doesn’t meet code. When the house was built, standards for bracing a home to resist wind forces were not the same as today’s codes. Is there any way for my home to be grandfathered, rather than having to comply with new codes? –Cora

DEAR CORA: Your home is already grandfathered as far as compliance with the building department. No one can compel you to make your home comply with newer codes — not even your insurer. However, insurance companies provide a service for a fee, and the fee is based upon their assessment of the risk for claims. They can’t compel you to modify your home or to buy their insurance. But they can raise your premiums if they believe there is a greater risk of damage because of older construction standards.

Your options are to find another insurance company that will not charge as much or to get a report from a structural engineer certifying that your home is stable and secure. Hopefully, you can find a less demanding insurer.

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

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