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Buyer's pool complaint won't hold water

Dear Real Estate Adviser,
We sold a house in the fall and closed our pool a week before the buyer's walk-through. Two months after the fact, one of the PVC pipes leading from the pool to the pool heater burst and the buyer now claims the pool wasn't winterized correctly. My feeling is that it was: The buyer had ample time to check everything in the walk-through and home inspection. There's no stipulation about winterizing in the contract. But what's the law?
-- Michael K.

Dear Michael,
In a home sale, sellers are only required to disclose known defects. In virtually all states, they can't be blamed for any seemingly healthy systems that happen to conk out a couple months after the sale -- or a couple weeks, for that matter. Certainly, there are instances where builders of new-construction homes can be held liable for pipe damage or other infrastructural problems due to shoddy construction standards or workmanship. But that is not the issue here.

Since your old house was inspected by the buyers, and you, I assume, completed any contractually agreed-to repairs before the sale, you are most likely in the clear.

A property's previous owner has no liability for damages caused by so-called "latent defects" as long as there is no evidence that the old owner concealed them. There are some gray areas in the law, such as in cases where homes have been prone to past "slab leaks" in their foundation and their owners neglected to disclose that fact.

But in your case, if you followed the standard pool-winterization steps, there's little else that could have been expected of you. Even if you didn't, the onus was on the buyers to raise any questions about the age of the pool's parts and your maintenance habits, to generally make sure everything was in proper working order before the purchase, and to spell out any special demands or contingencies in the contract. Of course, it never hurts to consult your real estate attorney or the broker you used in the deal -- if there was one -- for another opinion.

If the buyers had taken out a home warranty upon their purchase, their pain would have probably been lessened substantially after the pipe broke. Home warranties help buyers rest a little easier because they include repair costs that aren't covered by home insurance such as heating and air conditioning units, built-ins, other major appliances, and yes, plumbing. Such warranties are basically service contracts that typically have a one-year life after the close of escrow. In the case of your previous home, such a warranty would have likely paid for the burst pipe while the homeowner's insurance policy would have probably paid for any resultant property damages.

As always, good luck in the real estate game.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy-- Posted: Dec. 24, 2005
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