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When home sellers lie -- Page 2

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.

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"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 make repairs."

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 permit.

"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 recalls.

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 told Ricci.

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 told her.

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.

PAGE 1 | 2

-- Posted: Feb. 17, 2005

Home inspection: The hidden horrors



Questions sellers don't want to hear


Inspecting your neighborhood, not just your house


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