Q: I’m writing you to see if there is anything I can do.
In September, 2001, we bought a house from an investor. He bought the house from the bank, which had foreclosed on the previous owner.
We had the house inspected after we bought it, and since then things have been going from bad to worse. Within 6 months of moving in, we had 4 electrical fires due to faulty wiring. In addition, I’ve had to replace my water heater, the cesspool is overflowing, there is a bad mold smell in the basement, and the flat roof over the garage is leaking. The oil tank needs to be replaced due to corrosion.
We have already spent about $20,000 with all the repairs we have done, not to mention all the garbage that was around the house. There were 12 electrical appliances left behind and things like siding, roofing tiles, metal pipes and beer cans, buried in the back yard. In addition, the sprinkler system was chopped out, the fireplace needs repairs, and the inspector told us the driveway needs to be replaced because the grading is bad and there is no retaining wall.
Is there anything we can do here? My lawyer said there’s nothing we can do because all the trouble started six months after we moved in. He says that we did the walk-through and we should have seen this stuff coming.
I feel like we just bought a money pit.
A: One of the problems with buying a house that’s been foreclosed upon is that the homeowners typically don’t do any maintenance or upkeep to a home if they can’t afford the mortgage payments. So, foreclosed properties often come with a lot of extra problems, some of which may not be known at the closing.
However, if you hired a professional home inspector who was any good, he or she should have seen some of these problems. If you didn’t hire a professional home inspector before you bought the property, I’m sure you now see the value in spending that money.
The main issue is what did your investor/seller know about the true condition of the property when he flipped it to you. Seller disclosure laws are based on actual knowledge. While it does sounds like many of these issues would have been visible to a trained eye (i.e., a home inspector), it’s possible the seller was as clueless about them as you are.
Unless you can prove that the seller knew or should have known about these problems, you won’t be successful in court, as your attorney indicated. And, it may be too late anyway.
There is a statute of limitations, a limit to how long you can sue someone after an event. It is different in every state, but typically runs 4 to 6 years. Your attorney you whether you have run out of time for filling suit against the seller.
Let’s look at the big picture: While your house has been a money pit, and it appears that you have more cash to put into the home to make it liveable, you have to assess what kind of deal you got from the investor originally and what the home is worth today.
Sometimes a house can be a bad investments. But if you bought the home at a favorable price, and the value has risen, it’s possible that the cash you put in is only going to make your house worth more money.
You need to assess what still needs to be done to the home and what the home can sell for. If making the needed repairs to the home will improve its marketability and sales price, you might make out fine financially.
You should talk to a real estate broker in your area and determine what homes are selling for and what you can sell your home for now and what it would sell for fixed up. Once you have that information, you can determine what repairs you should make and how to proceed.
Regarding a possible lawsuit against the seller, if your attorney won’t work with you, try talking to a litigator who specializes in real estate disclosure issues. However, I think your ability to recover funds may be limited in this case.
Oct. 13, 2006
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