Dear Barry,

When I purchased my house, the home inspector listed a number of items that needed repair, including problems with the bathroom plumbing, the lawn sprinklers, the yard drains and some of the doors. My agent told me “everything will be fixed by the sellers.” But nothing was ever fixed — a fact I learned after moving in. My agent never even advised me to have a final walkthrough inspection before closing escrow. I’ve now spent $3,000 on various repairs, and my agent seems completely disinterested. He told me to call the sellers’ broker. The sellers’ broker says the sellers are liable, but he refuses to give me their new address. And now, the broker won’t even return my calls. I’d like to take the sellers to small claims court but don’t know where they are. Aren’t the agent and broker responsible for this situation? –Susan

Dear Susan,

Your agent was paid a commission to represent your interests. Now that you have problems, he is telling you to go represent yourself. It is his responsibility, not yours, to contact the listing broker and address these issues. If repairs pursuant to the home inspection were to be performed by the sellers, it was your agent’s responsibility to follow up on these procedures and to make sure the work was completed before the close of escrow. If the purchase contract called for a final walkthrough before the close, it was your agent’s responsibility to see that the final walkthrough took place.

Failure of a licensed agent to perform these duties is a violation of law in most states. Agents who are unwilling to represent the interests of their clients are ethically deficient and should be treated accordingly. For example, you can file a complaint with the state agency that issued your agent’s license, or you can take the agent to small claims court.

Dear Barry,

I’m about to list my home for sale and am concerned about improvements that I’ve made without permits. For example, the washer and dryer were moved to the garage, and ceiling fans were added in some rooms. To the best of my knowledge, everything was done to code, even though there were no permits. What do you recommend? –Steve

Dear Steve,

Building codes are so numerous and complex that it would be difficult to avoid one violation or another, especially if you’re not a licensed contractor. In fact, the very act of altering a building without a permit is a code violation in itself, particularly when electrical and plumbing changes are involved.

Most sellers simply disclose to buyers that work was done without permits. Buyers, in most cases, accept this disclosure at face value. In all likelihood, your buyers will hire a home inspector. If the inspector is any good, he’ll find whatever code violations are apparent. In that case, the buyer may or may not ask you to make corrections.

Another approach would be to hire your own home inspector for a pre-sale inspection. Then you can use the report to supplement your disclosure statement, while selling the home “as is.” 

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

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