DEAR BARRY: When we bought our home, the agent was selling it for his mother, and they told us that it was a maintenance-free home, in perfect condition. That was five years ago, and now the undisclosed problems have surfaced.
First, we began to have septic problems, but no one could find the access to the septic tank. According to our neighbors, the garage was built over the septic tank. Another problem was lack of access to the crawl space beneath the house. The seller had installed a forced air heating system, and the new air ducts blocked the access opening on the side of the building. Our home inspector pointed this out before we bought the property, but nothing was done about it at the time.
Well last week, we made a new access hole and got a very unpleasant surprise. The crawl space is filled with black, smelly, stagnant water from the laundry drain, and mold is growing on the underside of the floor. The seller simply ran a drain hose under the building and never told anyone. After this many years, do we have any recourse? –Leslie
DEAR LESLIE: If the agent was representing you, as well as his mother, that was not a good arrangement. You should have had your own agent to represent your interests. A good agent, working on your behalf, would have negotiated to have the seller provide a septic inspection report. The septic inspector would have found the septic access or would have discovered that the system was not accessible. In that case, an access would have been created to enable inspection and servicing of the system. If other septic repairs had been needed, that could have been negotiated before you bought the property.
If access to the crawl space was obstructed, your home inspector should have recommended that access be provided before the close of escrow. If that had been done, the faulty laundry drain, the excessive moisture condition, and possibly the mold would have been discovered.
If these problems had come to light sooner, you might have held the seller, the agent and the home inspector liable for faulty disclosure. After five years, you may no longer have recourse. However, you should check with a real estate attorney for clarification on that point.
DEAR BARRY: I purchased my home three years ago, and now I’m trying to sell it. My main concern is foundation settlement. Many cracks have appeared in the walls, especially above doors and windows, and I can’t afford to pay for repairs. This was not disclosed when I bought the home, and now I’m unsure what to do. The cracks are likely to scare away buyers. What do you advise? –Sandy
DEAR SANDY: Cracks do not always indicate foundation problems. Often, they are cosmetic cracks that indicate normal building stresses due to changes in temperature and humidity or to expansive soil conditions. You should have your home checked by a structural engineer to determine if there are actual foundation problems. If the foundation is determined to be OK, then the engineer’s report can be used for disclosure to buyers. If the engineer finds a foundation problem, you can adjust the sales price of the property accordingly.
To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.
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