We bought our first home during the frenzied real estate boom of 2004. It was a seller’s market, so we agreed to an as-is purchase. Our real estate agent told us that a home inspection had already been done for a previous buyer who had backed out of the deal. To save money, she suggested that we forego hiring our own inspector. Because she is a personal friend, we trusted her and signed a form that waived our right to an inspection. This, as it turned out, was a big mistake. Shortly after moving in, we began to have recurrent plumbing leaks. When we contacted the seller, he admitted knowing about these problems but not disclosing them because he had repaired the pipes himself and didn’t think they would leak again. We finally hired a plumber who opened the bathroom wall and found the seller’s substandard repair work that will now cost $1,200 to fix. We also encountered air-conditioning problems, with a repair estimate of $3,800. When we called the seller about this, he said that our waiver of a home inspection relieved him of the obligation to disclose. How do you advise handling this mess? –Brenda
As you say, declining a home inspection was a big mistake. In fact, it is never wise or prudent to forego a home inspection, regardless of the circumstances. Even when there is a report from a previous transaction, you have no assurance that the inspector who made that report was qualified, experienced or thorough. Unfortunately, too many real estate agents are uninformed in this regard and often give the same faulty advice that you received from your agent. As a personal friend, her counsel may have been well intended, but she needs to learn from this occurrence that such advice should never be given to any buyer.
The seller’s position is indefensible. He has clearly violated the ethical standards of real estate disclosure — a matter of law in most states. He states that he was aware of specific defects with the plumbing and air-conditioning systems but chose to withhold that information. His denial of responsibility on the basis of a declined home inspection is totally groundless. His obligation to disclose known defects is an entirely separate issue from any inspections that did or did not take place. Home inspections do not absolve sellers from their requirement to provide full disclosure to buyers.
Your first step in addressing this mess is to realize that there are more undisclosed defects than you have yet discovered (whether few or many is not yet known). The only way to get the full picture is to hire a home inspector of your own — someone with many years of experience and a reputation for detailed disclosure. Once you have a comprehensive report of property conditions, you’ll be prepared for the next stage of communications with the seller. Given his unwillingness to cooperate in a fair and equitable manner, a letter from your attorney might be needed to awaken his serious attention.
To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.