Q: My brother just bought a house 2 weeks ago and today one whole basement wall fell into the basement.
Is he up a creek, or is there something the inspector or Realtor missed?
A: Yikes! I hope no one was hurt.
Your brother should call back the inspector, the agent and a real estate attorney to help figure out what the problem is, if it is a new problem or an existing problem that was missed, whether the seller knew about it, and what needs to happen to resolve the situation. You may also want to call a structural engineer to get his or her opinion about what caused the basement wall to fall in.
It’s unclear from your letter whether the wall of the house fell in or just the plaster or drywall. If just the plaster or drywall fell into the basement, it’s possible that there is a serious leak coming in from outside or inside the house. If the entire structural wall of the house collapsed, there could be a water problem, an unstable ground problem or simply a total structural failure of the house.
Let’s assume the problem is water leaking into the house. It’s entirely possible that the inspector missed the fact that the basement wall was water-logged or was unstable. Did your brother walk around the property with the inspector during the inspection? If not, is it possible that the inspector didn’t actually look in the basement? Did he take any moisture readings? Did he touch the wall?
Once you figure out if the inspector missed the problem or not, you can take corrective action. A good start would be to demand repayment of the fee your brother paid for the inspection. Then, you can talk to a real estate attorney about whether your brother has any legal options against the inspector or seller.
I’m going to skip over the Realtor for the moment and move onto the sellers. Basement walls don’t just collapse overnight. Typically, there is a long history of moisture problems, leaking, or major cracks that are greater than 1/8-inch.
What did the sellers disclose on their seller disclosure form? Did they disclose prior leaking of the property? Had there been any major cracks in the basement that they fixed? Was the basement freshly painted? If so, that could be the sign that they were trying to cover something up.
If you suspect a seller disclosure issue, you’ll have to prove that the sellers knew, or should have known, about the problem. The Realtor may also be liable, if she knew something about the house’s physical condition and didn’t disclose it.
It’s time to hire an attorney and put on your Sherlock Holmes cap. You’ve got a lot of work to do to sort this mess out.
One final thing to keep in mind: Sometimes bad things happen and nobody is at fault. It could be possible that the sellers had no knowledge of problems with the basement wall and the inspector did a good job in looking at the house. There are risks in buying property and sometimes nobody is at fault when bad things happen.
Certainly you want to get to the bottom of your issue. You need to investigate the issue further and see if the seller knew of the problem, whether the inspector should have discovered the problem and whether the Realtor knew of the problem and did not disclose it.
Published: Jul 31, 2007