Buyer’s Responsibilty To Change Utilities After Closing

Q: On March 12, we closed on a summer home about 2 hours or so from our primary home.

Just to give you some background, the whole process was difficult because the sellers, their Realtor, our Realtor and their lawyer were not particularly cooperative and were disorganized about details related to the closing.

We had our final walk-through the day before the closing and everything we had requested be fixed after the inspection was in fact fixed. The heat, electricity and water were on as well.

When we closed on the house, we were under the impression that the utilities would be rolled over to our name. Well, unbeknownst to us, the seller had called the utilities company on March 9th and requested that the heat and electricity be turned off on March 14th. We didn’t know that they did this and no one mentioned anything to us at any time.

Five days after the closing (on Sunday), we drove to the house to clean up and begin painting. When I arrived, I realized that the heat and electricity had been turned off, so I called the local utilities to turn everything back on again the next day.

On Tuesday morning, I was greeted with water spewing out of the pump outside our house. Inside, the house was flooded and everything was damaged – walls, ceilings, kitchen, floors. Needless to say I was in shock. I called my husband and he immediately drove over. We called a plumber and he came over to figure out what happened.

Turns out, during the time that the sellers had turned off the heat, the pipes froze and then burst when the heat was turned back on. We are now faced with thousands of dollars in damage. We want to know who is liable for this.

The Realtors never mentioned anything to us about switching the names on the account. We called the utilities company, which gave us the information about when the heat was turned off and who authorized it. The utility company said they advised the seller to tell their Realtor and the buyers, which obviously, they never did.

We have owned a home for over 30 years and have never encountered a problem of this magnitude. Also, having not bought a home in so many years, we were unaware of these little details such as rolling over the utilities bill into our name. We are totally and completely devastated and are looking to you for advice.

A: I wish I had better news for you. Unfortunately, you were responsible for both insuring the property and for making sure that the utilities had been changed into your name and were working as of the moment you closed on the property.

Although you’re angry at the sellers, I believe that anger is misdirected. While the sellers might have reminded you to switch all of the utilities (including water, gas, electricity, and cable) into your own name by the time of the closing, they gave you two extra days to get your affairs in order, by having the water and power turned off two days after the closing.

It’s also not the agent’s responsibility to tell you that you were responsible for changing the accounts, although reminding you would have been a kindness and an extra bit of service that they could have provided to a new second homeowner. If you used a real estate attorney, that attorney might also have reminded you of your obligation to get the utility accounts switched into your name immediately.

Whether it was because you were buying a home for the first time in 30 years or simply because you didn’t ask the right questions, you wound up with a disaster on your hands.

If you were doing something for the first time in 30 years, it seems as though you might have read up on what you needed to do. There are plenty of books out there, mine included, that cover what needs to happen in the 30 days leading up to a closing.

I hope the property was insured and that you have by now recovered from this disaster and can enjoy your second home. If you want to explore any legal options you might have, please talk to a litigator who specializes in real estate.

Published: Jun 16, 2007

Rate This Article
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (5 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
Related Topics
View our other articles that are related to this post.

© Ilyce R. Glink. All rights reserved. This content may not be used, distributed, syndicated, compiled or excerpted in any medium or form without written authorization from Think Glink, Inc. For information on syndicating please contact us.

5 Responses to Buyer’s Responsibilty To Change Utilities After Closing

  1. Thomas K says:

    How is it buyers and/or sellers always point to blame everyone else in the transaction when things such as this is clearly the buyers duty and obligation. The real estate agents responsibilities are to carry out the transaction per agreement buyer and seller signs. The Internet is flooded with buyers (and sellers also) pointing the finger at either the agents or lenders for things they should research and know themselves before making any major purchase. If you plan to buy a house, as a buyer, you should be aware of every single needed to do on your part, not blame everyone else. It’s a waste of everyone’s time!

    • David says:

      I would say most buyers are completely unfamiliar with the process in most cases and even after extensive research it is easy to miss one of the many steps in buying a house. Paid professionals with a stake in this deal that have experience in these things should certainly be advising their clients and customers to ensure a smooth transaction.

      In this case, the buyer had the utilities changed over, but the sellers had them cancelled after the day of closing. I have no remark on who is held legally liable, but it would seem to me that neither party can shoulder the full blame.

  2. David Digby says:

    I googled this question because I’m in the same situation. However, I am the seller and not the buyer. We close in the 3rd of May, but I told the electric company to leave the utilities on until the 9th of May, which gives the buyers a full week to transfer them into their name. I also did the same with water. We do not have gas. I did this, because I thought it was a nice thing to do. Apparently; however, the seller is under NO OBLIGATION to leave the utilities on after the closing date. So the moral of the story, is, buyer beware, lol. 😀

  3. Anon says:

    It’s sad that we try to assign blame when we can avoid these terrible situations by opening up the line of communication. I hate that sellers and buyers alike hide behind their attorneys and realtors who are just trying to make a living themselves. I read through every step by step article I could get my hands on when purchasing my first home and didn’t even consider the utilities until my mom mentioned it to me. Luckily this was a couple of weeks before closing, but not everyone have an anal retentive mother watching their backs like I do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *