Q: My husband and I recently bought a move-up home. During our inspection period, we were told that there were some problems with the furnace (the home has central heating). We got bids from an HVAC contractor who was recommended by our agent, and the bid was almost $2,000. The sellers agreed to do the work, but wanted to use their own contractor, who agreed to do it at a lower cost. We didn’t care who did it, as long as they were licensed — and they were.

We closed escrow and moved in. Now that it’s starting to get cool at night, we decided to just run the heater and see how it worked — and it didn’t work!

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Q: My husband and I recently bought a move-up home. During our inspection period, we were told that there were some problems with the furnace (the home has central heating). We got bids from an HVAC contractor who was recommended by our agent, and the bid was almost $2,000. The sellers agreed to do the work but wanted to use their own contractor, who agreed to do it at a lower cost. We didn’t care who did it, as long as they were licensed — and they were.

We closed escrow and moved in. Now that it’s starting to get cool at night, we decided to just run the heater and see how it worked — and it didn’t work! We called the original contractor out and he said that only a couple of the problems that he originally found were fixed.

We asked our agent and she said that she can’t do anything to help us because we didn’t do a written request for repairs, but she never told us to make a written request. She just has an e-mail from the listing agent saying the sellers would do the work, and she said that won’t stand up in small claims court against the sellers. What did we do wrong here?

A: So, let’s talk about what should have happened in this situation. "You" should have issued a formal, written request for repairs to the seller, specifying the individual items you wanted them to have fixed. The seller, then, would have signed the request, agreeing to have the listed repairs completed by a licensed contractor.

When the repairs were complete, the sellers would have provided you with the invoice — and any warranty on the repairs — from the licensed contractor, documenting the repairs that were completed.

Additionally — and this might have happened, in fact — your contract to buy the property would have included a clause ensuring that you would have a home warranty plan at closing (most often, this is paid for by the sellers) to cover defects that didn’t exist, to your knowledge, at the time you purchased the property. …CONTINUED

Now, I’m a real estate salesperson myself, so I’m not typically quick to point the finger at agents. In my opinion, real estate brokers and agents are generally underappreciated for the level of work they put into transactions. Long story short — your agent’s suggestion that you, without her input, should have spontaneously known to write up a formal request that the sellers complete the heater repairs borders on the ridiculous.

In fact, the way this actually works 99 percent of the time is that once you tell your agent that you would like to ask for the seller to do the repairs, your agent actually writes the request up, has you sign it, then sends it over to the listing agent for the sellers’ response.

Then, she follows up and obtains the needed invoice and any warranties once the work is done. If the work isn’t done for any reason, she makes sure you are aware of this before closing and that you are OK with waiving the work and proceeding — or she holds everything up until the work is finished.

Your agent knows this. What it sounds like might have happened is that she dropped the ball on some of the paperwork, relying on the word and the e-mail of the listing agent, and is now trying to deflect the blame.

Real estate can be a litigious business, and some agents live in constant fear of being sued. This fear-based defensiveness might explain your agent’s otherwise strange explanation, although it is not necessarily the case that the e-mail she received from the listing agent is insufficient documentation to support your position. (Of course, that assumes she still has the e-mail; if she doesn’t, this might open up another issue altogether.)

First things first — if you ask me, before you should even be discussing small claims court, your agent’s supervising broker should write a note to the seller’s broker, attaching the e-mail in which the listing agent agreed that the sellers would do the work and the recent report of the HVAC inspector documenting the as-yet incomplete work — asking them to complete the repairs, as promised.

It’s possible that the sellers don’t even know that the work is incomplete. After all, you’ve lived there for months and you’re just finding out! I strongly believe that the people across the table would often prefer to resolve issues amicably. I recommend that you give the sellers the benefit of the doubt at this point, and offer them the opportunity to live up to their word.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site, www.rethinkrealestate.com.

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