Q: My fiancee and I recently purchased a home in the New York City metropolitan area. It’s an 1880s brownstone. It was completely renovated about four years ago. Because the home is a bit unique for the area and can be converted to a single family building, we agreed to work with the seller’s agent to complete the sale.
We used your first-time buyer book and felt that we were asking all the right questions and did a thorough inspection. We closed at the end of May and we’ve been in the home for less than three weeks.
Yesterday, we had a thunderstorm in the late afternoon. We were away for dinner during the storm, and when we returned, we discovered water coming in the ground floor level over about one third of the area, which is all living space, including the living room, kitchen, and a half-bath. The storm was not that bad, and now we’re worried that we’ve got a serious drainage problem on the property.
The seller’s disclosure mentioned that there had been standing water in the back yard and we asked if water had ever gotten in the house. They said that it had not, but we suspect that this problem has happened before.
What should we do? We think we’ve just purchased a home that has a serious and expensive problem.
A: Your current situation sounds troubling, and has clearly marred the purchase experience. How unfortunate.
Please call your real estate attorney and consult with him or her about what your contract says, what New York’s seller disclosure laws require and what your sellers stated on their signed seller disclosure statement.
While it seems unlikely that water has never gotten into the house before, it’s also possible this is the first time. You need to do a little investigating. You should call the home inspector who helped you with the purchase and seek his or her advice.
In addition to your home inspector, you might want to talk to a plumber to see if there are any drains around the home that are clogged and need to be cleaned out. What you are trying to do is find out where the water is coming from. If you find that out, then you can see what it will cost to fix the issue.
Some homeowners never realize when they buy a home that failure to perform routine maintenance can cause severe problems.
Some homeowners don’t clean their gutters and downspouts. When they get clogged, the water pours down the side of the house and enters the home through open windows and bottoms of doors or even through cracks in the foundation. A simple cleaning of those gutters and downspouts fixes the problem.
I’m not saying that the cause of your problem is your fault, but you need to make sure you know what caused the water problem. If your problem isn’t anything that you could have prevented through maintenance and you find out that your sellers lied to you, your attorney will then advise you of your options where the sellers have failed to disclose a material defect with the property.
If your attorney recommends that you sue the sellers, make sure you understand the costs involved in following through with litigation. In the course of suing the sellers you’re going to have to prove that they knew or should have known about the defect. What will prove it? If you can find the contractors who have fixed the problem previously, or if you can get a neighbor to confirm that there has been an ongoing problem for years.
At any time during this process and once you have found out what the problem is, you’ll have to find contractors who can come in and give you an assessment of what’s wrong with the property and how much it will cost to fix it. Construction isn’t cheap in New York City, but it could be that you simply need an extra drain in the garden to tie into the city sewers. It may also be a city problem in that a sewer is clogged and needs to be repaired.
Until you know what the problem is and how much it will cost to fix it, you don’t know what you’re dealing with, and can’t make a smart decision about any legal options you have. So, get moving and start talking.
Good luck – let me know what happens.
June 19, 2008.