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 not 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.