Finding out there are problems with a house you just purchased can be devastating. The primary concern remains who should be responsible for correcting the problems and whether you (the buyer) have to bear the entire financial burden.
Ideally, you would be informed of the property’s condition before signing the purchase agreement. Or, you can come up with as many questions as possible to ask the seller or seller’s agent about the property before proceeding to the next steps in the buying process.
But what if you neglect to ask about something and you only discover that the property has defects after completing the purchase? Or, worse still, what if the seller or seller’s agent deceitfully concealed facts about the property that could have influenced your decision to buy the property or would have helped you in negotiating a lower sales price?
Let’s discuss the most popular hidden defects, who would be legally responsible for fixing them, and whether pursuing the matter in court makes sense.
Here are some of the most common home defects buyers discover after the fact:
Almost all U.S. states have enacted laws that require sellers to disclose property defects to potential buyers. This is usually practiced by completing a standard disclosure form before the transaction is finalized.
The questions asked on the form vary by state. Regardless of the questions included on the form, sellers primarily only provide the information explicitly requested on the form without divulging any additional information.
Your best bet in holding the seller legally responsible for undisclosed property defects is to review the disclosure agreement to see whether the issue you encountered was one that he or she was supposed to report.
Real estate agents are rarely to blame when the buyer finds problems after buying a house, as their duties are fairly limited. However, in some states, the seller’s agent shares some of the burdens. Especially in a situation where the seller disclosed the property’s defects to the agent but the agent neglected to share the information with the buyer for fear that the deal might fall through.
Be sure to check your state’s disclosure laws to confirm whether agents can be held legally responsible for withholding knowledge of defects with the buyer.
It can be agonizing to learn there are problems with the house you just purchased. Especially if you got the home inspected by professionals. Ideally, the inspector should have found any major problems and included them in their inspection report. If the inspector failed to observe a defect, he/she could be legally liable.
Thoroughly review the inspection report and confirm whether or not the issue you discovered was mentioned. If the inspector documented the issue and you as the buyer failed to review the results. You’re fully responsible for taking care of the issue.
It’s not enough to just know there are problems after the purchase is finalized. You then have to ensure you have a legitimate legal claim. For that purpose you have to establish the following:
If you had to spend money fixing the issues that were not disclosed prior to buying the house. You are legally entitled to financial compensation.
Once you determine that the defect was not disclosed but should have been, you can look into filing a lawsuit. If you believe there was a breach of contract or warranty, failure to disclose as per the state law, or intentional misrepresentation of the facts.
Before filing the complaint, make sure it falls within your state’s statute of limitations. Every state gives a certain time limit within which you can file suit against the buyer for failing to disclose issues with their property.
If you miss the filing deadline, there will be little you can do legally to have the matter addressed and fixed.
Filing a case in small claims court is more convenient and demands fewer administrative hassles than if you file in state court. However, if the damage you are claiming is beyond the dollar limit set forth by the state. You may have no choice but to pursue it in state court.
If you find problems with the house you just purchased, pursuing legal action can be a daunting task. Consider alternatives for settling the issue out of court if you can.
Document the issues you find and the estimated cost of repairing each issue and then provide the seller with the reasons why you think they are responsible.
Defusing the issue this way is a lot cheaper and less stressful. However, if you prefer to file a lawsuit, consult with an attorney.