A home buyer says their seller sold a part of the property to the city without telling them. The buyer is seeking restitution, but may not get the payout they want.

Q: I bought a home recently and found out that my seller had sold a portion of my property we bought to the city so that the city could lay water main lines.

Originally, the property was .6 of an acre. The seller sold off a tenth of an acre to the city. Then they sold the house to me with ½ an acre instead of .60.

How do I get justice on this? When I sell, I’ll only have a half-acre lot to sell instead of .60 acre. The value of the home will be lower. Shouldn’t the seller pass on the money they received to me?

A: As we read your question, the real question in our mind is what exactly did you agree to buy? Did you agree to purchase a home on .60 of an acre or a half acre? And, did you pay a price commensurate with the larger lot size or a smaller lot size? And, even if your seller did sell the land to the city, once the water mains are installed and the landscaping is patched up, will anything be built on that land or will it seem like yours?

When buyers search for homes, they generally look for a certain type of home, with a certain number of bedrooms and bathrooms. In urban areas, people tend to focus more on the home and less on the land on which the home sits. As long as a home fits certain basic parameters, the exact size of the land is usually not a big issue.

Yes, you find some buyers who focus on a lot that is bigger than most, but a buyer usually focuses on seeing the home and the lot and appreciating how they feel to the buyer more so than knowing that the buyer is getting a half-acre or .60 acres. If you were buying a lot to build a home, the exact dimensions of the land would be critical in order to know how big a house you could build on the property. But when you have an existing home on the land, the issue becomes less relevant.

In your situation, we’d argue that you might be a bit better off with the smaller parcel. You will only pay real estate taxes on the half-acre but still benefit from the rest of the land. Presumably, the city purchased that land for their use in placing water pipes underground. In many similar situations, the land will remain open and will appear to be part of your property if you don’t put up fencing.

Don’t get us wrong. We know that land square footage and building square footage can be critical, but you haven’t given us any information that would lead us to believe that you were deceived or that you were expecting to get more land than you got.

Normally in real estate transactions, the real estate contract may state the size of the lot of land you are buying. In his practice, Sam usually sees residential contracts state the approximate area of land that is part of a deal. However, he has rarely ever seen a contract in which the exact square footage of the land being sold is a condition of the deal.

We think that it’s likely that your contract didn’t contain any information on the square footage being sold to you or may have stated an approximation. When you closed, you may have been given a survey of the land you were buying. That survey should have included the square footage of the lot you purchased. It was at that time that you should have objected to the amount of land included in your purchase. We also know that in some parts of the country surveys are not required as part of the sale.

Sam believes that surveys are quite important in just about all home purchases and, in particular, homes separated by small or large strips of land, home surrounded by fences, and homes that have other man-made improvements that are located close to the property lines. Without a survey, you might not know where your property lines are and what land around your home is yours.

Finally, you’re asking to be compensated for a loss that you may not have sustained. The home you purchased may have the same value with or without the strip of land sold to the city. And, if your contract did not contain a specific representation and obligation for the seller to convey a specific amount of land to you, you might be out of luck. You may want to talk to a real estate attorney to go over your documentation and determine if you have any right against the seller and what your next course of action should be.