Most buyers understand the importance of doing inspections before completing a home purchase. Many buyers, however, are not aware that inspections might fail to reveal issues that could affect their use and enjoyment of the property.
For example, a home was recently purchased in the Berkeley Hills near San Francisco. An inspection of the title record indicated that there were no easements recorded against the property. An easement grants limited property rights to someone other than the owner of record.
Easements can restrict your use of a property, or they can enhance your property rights. A sewer easement across your property is an example of a restrictive easement. Usually the person or entity that benefits from the easement has the right to maintain the easement. If so, you are restricted from building over the easement or doing anything that would preclude the easement holder’s maintenance rights.
A sewer easement would benefit your property if it enabled you to hook up to the city sewer line by traversing your neighbor’s property. This could be particularly beneficial if this is the only way you can hook up.
Buyers usually hire a title company or attorney to search the ownership records to determine if there are any recorded documents–such as easements or liens–that affect the property. Title searches usually don’t cover easements that aren’t recorded against the property. But, such easements do exist and do affect the owner’s property rights.
This was the situation with the Berkeley Hills property mentioned above. An unrecorded sewer easement turned up when their agent asked the seller where and how the sewer line hooked up to the main city sewer line. The seller said there was a sewer easement along the right-side property line. A check of the city sewer map for the area revealed that the easement did in fact exist. Even though the easement hadn’t been recorded against the property, it existed by virtue of being delineated on the city map.
HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Due diligence investigations of a property often go beyond simply having the property inspected. You may need to do a little detective work in order to make sure that something critical, such as the existence of an unrecorded easement, is discovered before, and not after, you buy the property. It helps to work with an experienced local real estate agent who can educate you about unique issues affecting properties in the area.
Title inspections aren’t the only inspections that might give you less than the full picture. Wood pest (also called “termite”) inspections only cover wood destroying pests and organisms. These inspections won’t necessarily indicate if there are serious defects in the home’s major systems or appliances.
A home inspection will inform you about these major systems and appliances but usually excludes security and irrigation systems, air conditioning systems, solar and solar-assisted systems, spas and pools. A home inspection also won’t tell you whether a component, such as a security system, is leased or owned. You’ll need to ask the seller or the security system company for that information.
Properties that share a driveway with another or other homeowners should ideally benefit from a maintenance agreement. Often, however, this detail is overlooked. If you’re buying a property with a shared driveway and there isn’t a recorded maintenance agreement, be sure to research this so that you understand the ramifications. You may need to hire an attorney to get the answers.
THE CLOSING: Performing due diligence investigations of a property you’re buying can be time consuming and expensive, but well worth it in terms of your financial security and peace of mind.
Dian Hymer is author of “House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers,” and “Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide,” Chronicle Books.
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