Some buyers take broken promises more or less
in stride. When John Stump bought his 1,600-square-foot ranch
house, he recognized that the sellers had not maintained it
well. That was OK, because he planned to make extensive renovations.
He didn't expect what happened next.
Stump amended the purchase contract with a
copy of an inspection report. The sellers agreed to make the
repairs indicated on the inspection report.
"They indicated repairs they had made,
but they hadn't made them," he says. "It wasn't
that they did a shabby job of repairing them, they just didn't
Among other problems, the inspection report
mentioned that a joist had been cut through to make room for
a bathtub drain. The sellers promised to fix it, and later
wrote "repaired" on that line item in the contract.
"But it had not been repaired," Stump says.
The rotted subfloor in the bathroom hadn't
been repaired, either, and the toilet wasn't bolted to the
floor -- it was merely sitting on the wax seal. An attempt
had been made to fix the water-damaged base of the basement
stairs. A medicine cabinet had been removed and replaced by
a cheap mirror with a plastic border. Door stoppers had been
unscrewed from walls.
"It wasn't spiteful," Stump says.
"These people had inherited the house. I don't think
they meant to do this. Somebody may have told them the repairs
had been made, but they hadn't."
It was only after closing, and having someone
crawl under the house, that he discovered that the hidden
problems in the bathroom had not been repaired -- the cut-through
joist, the rotted subfloor, the unsecured toilet. He asked
the previous owners to make fixes, and they sent someone who
did a substandard job bridging the joist.
This is on top of the feral cat that had been
living in the attic, and the backyard deck that had to be
removed because it had been built improperly and without a
"I looked at these people and realized
that the behavior was so outrageous, they didn't understand
the law," Stump says. He realizes that he could have
taken legal action. Instead, he says, "I just laughed
it off. Was it worth legal hell for me and the sellers? No."
Legal hell or not, some people take the dispute to court.
Laura Ricci did when the electric outlets weren't replaced,
as promised in the purchase contract.
After Ricci agreed to buy a house in Austin,
Texas, the inspector discovered that the house had aluminum
wiring. Aluminum wire isn't a problem itself, but a fire hazard
exists where aluminum wire is joined to outmoded electrical
outlets, switches, light fixtures and junction boxes. Ricci's
inspector explained that an electrician would have to replace
all the electrical outlets.
The seller agreed to have the work done, and
presented receipts at closing to prove that the outlets had
been replaced. "Shortly after we closed escrow, I had
guys in there swarming the place, getting ready to work, and
the electrician called and said, 'Laura, I thought you told
me that the electric outlets had been treated,'" Ricci
The electrician had checked two electrical
outlets before calling Ricci. Neither had been replaced. Then,
while he was on the phone, the electrician looked at a third
outlet. That one had been replaced, as promised. Ricci heard
a pause. "Oh, I know what happened," the electrician
What tipped him off was the outline of the
couch, visible on the carpet. The outlets behind the couch
hadn't been replaced. Outlets behind beds and large appliances
had not been replaced, either. All the other outlets -- the
ones that had been out in the open and easy to get to -- had
been replaced. "If there was a piece of furniture there,
the guy didn't bother to look or open it up," the electrician
Ricci paid her electrician to finish the job,
and took the matter to small claims court. She says the original
electrician -- the one who did an incomplete job -- told the
judge that it wasn't his job to move furniture and appliances.
She says the judge found in her favor and the former owners
wrote her a check right there in court.
Did the seller lie to Ricci? She doesn't know.
Maybe the seller didn't know that the electrician had done
an incomplete job. But Ricci was sure about one thing: She
wasn't going to pay for it.