Buying a house doesn’t always have to mean getting the property as is. When a buyer finds a fault or concern with the real estate, they have the ability to negotiate repairs before the property trades hands. But where does the buck stop when it comes to checking that repairs have been made, or knowing when there’s an issue in the first place?
Examples of Deals Gone South
An example of a complex issue with repairs comes from our own state. A buyer had a house inspected, and the inspector found issues with the flooring in the bathroom. A leaky fixture had flooded the floor often enough to rot the wood, resulting in an unsafe bathroom. The buyer astutely negotiated repairs of the floor before purchase, which the seller agreed to. Repairs were made, the inspector returned to verify that they had been made, the contractor verified they’d been made to the seller, and the buyer moved forward and purchased the property.
Some time later, the buyer (now homeowner) starts remodeling said bathroom, to find that the floors had only been partially repaired: there was still water damage and rotten wood beneath the tiles. The contractor had only repaired a portion of the floor, whether by mistake or intent, and the homeowner had purchased the house as is with repairs having been made. The inspector representing the buyer had checked off on the repairs. The seller was under the impression that repairs had been made. Who’s at fault for the bathroom floor? When are you free of your duty to do repairs?
It boils down to what you know, and what you should have known.
In another case, a buyer purchased a house from a seller who had owned the property with a spouse. The spouse had done all the repairs and worked on the house and had passed away. The seller sold the house in good faith, but the buyer came back later and sued because the property leaked and flooded when it rained. The seller had no idea, having had no reason to manage the house. But the buyer won the suit, because the court ruled the seller should have known, and disclosed the problem in the contract.
The Solution to Misinformation
A sprinkle of communication goes a long way, but in real estate transactions, it should be a truckload of communication. As a property seller, the law expects you to have a basic understanding of major issues with your property, regardless of whether you occupy it. As a buyer, being astute in your inspection (and following up on repairs), can be a life saver. And as a Realtor, encouraging transparency and careful consideration of a property can not only save clients money, it can strengthen your relationship, and earn a lifelong referral.