Seller disclosure laws don’t cover every issue you find with a house after you buy it. If a homeseller isn’t aware of an issue when they sell, the homebuyer likely can’t take legal action.
Q: We purchased a home and farm equipment on approximately 20 acres in rural Georgia this past January. The owners told us that the raceway business next door was no longer in operation and that the track was not used anymore.
Shortly after closing, we found out that the sellers had lied to us. We were living near something similar to the sounds of the Atlanta airport. We are from Atlanta and have not moved into the home. After researching the track, we found out that the track had been renovated, had new owners and was in full operation in late 2016 while the sellers were still living there.
We believed the sellers and had no way of knowing the track was operational. We put the house back on the market this past March. We have had two showings and both asked about the track, just like we did. The house is off the market now as we are refinancing from a 15-year mortgage to a 30-year mortgage with over $100,000 invested.
Is there anything we can do to make the sellers accountable for their dishonesty?
A: The operative part of your question was that at some point in time the track was probably not used. Then it was sold, renovated and then operational again. Whether the sellers knew or didn’t know the details is the key to your question.
But we have to take a step back. If you knew there was a race track next door and you believed that it was no longer used, what made you believe that a race track wouldn’t open up again? When you’re buying a home and there is an empty piece of property next door, that’s considered fair warning that something could be built on that piece of land you won’t like.
In a city, if you buy a condo in a tall building, there’s a risk a neighboring building will be built that kills your view. In a suburban setting, you can have a new shopping center built on a neighboring parcel of land. In more rural areas, you can have adjacent farm uses that could make your life miserable living next door.
You knew the track existed and yet you proceeding to buy anyway without doing any of your own research. If the seller was right and the track had closed down, it would be unreasonable for you to rely on the seller’s statement that the track had closed down to then believe that the use at that property would never be a track again.
Having said that, we don’t know if the sellers actually knew that the track had reopened when you made your offer on the property. And, if it had reopened, we don’t understand why you didn’t do a little research on your own to determine if the track was still in use.
We have a feeling that the track may have closed down for a time and it may have overlapped the time you made your offer (or not) and that the track may have opened up between the time of your offer and the time you closed on the home. When you buy a home and live far away, you must make a greater effort to research the home, the surrounding area, the uses of land in and around your area and even visit the home at different times of the day to make sure that you understand what you are getting.
A simple search on Google and Bing of the area of your home clearly shows the race track. It shows quite a number of improvements around the track. Even if the seller had told you that the track was closed, you were on notice that the track was in existence. The track has a website and a Facebook page. The Facebook page shows activity and races last October, November, December and January.
You could have easily determined whether the track was active or not by driving over to the track and seeing if it was kept up and used. You could have called the county or local municipality and talked to someone in the building department. You could have just gone online. Any of these things would have help you understand that your seller was not telling you the truth.
So what can you do now? We doubt that most seller disclosure laws would have required this item to have been disclosed to you. Most seller disclosure laws deal with issues that are not visible or that only the seller would have knowledge of the issue. Matters that are of public record or clearly seen are usually not items that would need to be disclosed.
In your situation, however, you asked and you were told something that was contrary to what was going on. The seller has an obligation to tell the truth. But we don’t know if you had the seller make that representation in the contract or if you have it in writing. Given that you probably didn’t include a representation and warranty in your contract that the seller was making to you and that you were relying on that representation makes it difficult for you to prove that you were damaged.
You may not like the race track next door but if you sued your seller, how would the judge know whether an open race track or a closed race track was of material consequence to you in deciding to buy the home?
You may want to talk to an attorney in Georgia to see if there is anything specific under Georgia law that could help you out if, for example, you have an email from the seller telling you that the track was closed or included any other details that backs up your claim.
But, again, even if the track was closed and the seller had told the truth, the track could have reopened and you’d still own a home next to a race track.