DEAR BARRY: Since purchasing our home, numerous cracks have appeared in the walls. Some are as wide as half an inch. We’ve also noticed that patching has been done at many of these cracks, indicating that the sellers of the home were aware of the problem but had attempted to hide it. None of this was reported by our home inspector when we were in escrow. How serious do you think this problem is, and what should we do about it? –Thomas

DEAR BARRY: Since purchasing our home, numerous cracks have appeared in the walls. Some are as wide as half an inch. We’ve also noticed that patching has been done at many of these cracks, indicating that the sellers of the home were aware of the problem but had attempted to hide it. None of this was reported by our home inspector when we were in escrow. How serious do you think this problem is, and what should we do about it? –Thomas

DEAR THOMAS: Cracks as wide as half an inch indicate a major structural problem with the foundation system and/or instability of the soil. The fact that so much movement has occurred since the cracks were patched warrants immediate attention and concern. When symptoms such as these are intentionally masked in order to sell a property, some home inspectors are able to see through the concealment. But when cosmetic repairs are effectively done, it is sometimes possible to prevent discovery of building settlement by a home inspector.

Your first course of action is to notify all parties to the transaction by certified mail. Inform the home inspector, the sellers, their agent and your agent that there are serious, undisclosed problems with the home and ask that they all come to the property to see what is taking place. And don’t perform any manner of repair work in the meantime. Inform all parties, particularly the sellers, that you want a detailed structural engineering report on the home. The sellers should accept whatever costs are necessary to repair the structural defects, as determined by the engineer. If no one is willing to cooperate, you should enlist the aid of an experienced real estate attorney.

DEAR BARRY: I bought a small commercial building about four years ago. Recently, I discovered evidence that there was once a fire in the basement. This was never disclosed by the seller. Now the seller says that the tenant in the building had the fire, but the seller provided no details. I have just listed the property for sale and don’t know what I should disclose to buyers. What do you recommend? –Mary

DEAR MARY: If the fire was a substantial one, the fire department was probably called, and an insurance claim may have been filed. In that case, the fire department would have an official report of the event. Therefore, you should check with the local fire authorities to see what their records show. If they have a fire report on file, it may indicate whether the owner of the building was aware of the situation. You should also ask the seller provide the name and policy number of the insurance company so that you can learn what claims may have been made.

If the fire department and the insurance company were never notified, then the fire may have been small and the damages cosmetic in nature. In that case, you should disclose to future buyers of the property as much as you know about the situation and about your unsuccessful attempts to learn more. You should also hire a professional inspector to evaluate the condition of the property, including the fire evidence in the basement.

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

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