pool complaint won't hold water
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.
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
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
As always, good luck in the real estate game.