Seller disclosure issues often cause headaches for buyers. In this case, a homeowner (who purchased a home with a sunroom addition three years ago) feels that the seller of the property didn’t disclose problems with the addition. The lack of seller disclosure means the homeowner could be facing a huge bill to fix the problem.
Q: We purchased a home in Maryland about three years ago. Following the purchase, we discovered that a sunroom addition on the upper and lower levels of the home was built on top of an existing outdoor deck.
The addition does not have a proper foundation or insulation. We found no evidence that the addition was permitted. We consulted with an architect, who advised us that the addition on both levels will need to be removed and completely rebuilt. In the meantime, both rooms are freezing cold in winter and boiling hot in summer due to lack of insulation.
Our home inspection report did not flag the construction of these rooms as a problem, nor did the seller disclose any foundation, structural, or latent defects in the residential property disclosure statement. Do we have any recourse with the inspector or the seller?
A: When we get a question like yours that describes a major issue that you should have found out about shortly after the closing, we wonder why the person that purchased the home has not asked the question (to the seller) much earlier.
If you purchased before the end of the summer, you would have noticed problems with the cooling during the summer. If you purchased prior to the winter, you would have noticed heating issues. Most important, there are structural issues that need to be addressed.
You should know that in some states, seller disclosure laws have a time period in which you much take action to file a claim against a seller. That time period can be as short as one year following the sale. Your real estate contract may have other considerations relating to the question of whether the seller could have some liability here. And if you blow the date, you might lose your right to sue the seller.
If the home was sold to you in “as is” condition, you might not have recourse under the contract against the seller. Then again, there are certain other laws that could potentially benefit your case if the seller intentionally hid the issue or had a duty to tell you about the issue and didn’t.
We tell our readers that the first thing they need to do is determine what the problem is, then figure out how much it will cost to fix the problem. While your problem sounds like a big one, we don’t know how much it will cost you to fix it. In the past, we’ve heard from readers that are ready to sue their sellers for a problem but then when they find out that the cost to fix the problem is minimal, they just work to get it fixed.
You should talk to a structural engineer and then get estimates from several contractors on what needs to be done to fix these issues. Once you know that, you can decide whether the issues are big enough to go after the seller. But remember, you’ll have to talk to an attorney that has experience with seller disclosure laws, real estate fraud and litigation matters. Because, once you have the information on the house and work that needs to be done to it, you’ll have to sit down with the attorney and see if you have a case.
If the seller put up the addition without permits and without doing it right and your state has seller disclosure laws that would require the seller to disclose what he did to you, you might have a good case against the seller. But litigation is expensive. You need to balance the cost of litigation with the cost of the repairs, the possibility of winning the case and, finally, the likelihood that the seller has the money to pay you. You could win your case, but if the seller doesn’t have anything to pay you, you could spend quite a bit of money chasing the seller but end up without anything.
Given all this, your first step is to find out what the fixes will cost and then make sure that you talk to an attorney who has expertise in seller disclosure laws and experience in winning seller disclosure cases, to walk through your options.
Ilyce Glink is the Publisher of ThinkGlink.com and the author of many books on home buying and selling. Sam Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney.