Dear Real Estate Adviser,
I read your column on selling a house that backs up to train tracks. Along these lines, my husband and I just bought a beautiful new 3,000-square-foot, $300,000 home in Florida. Hours after closing, we learned that a water tower would soon go up five doors down! When confronting the Realtor, who's also the builder's representative, she acted surprised. "Tower? What tower?" Later, though, we located that very tower online on the builder's subdivision site map! Shouldn't the Realtor or builder have disclosed this? While it's a solid tower and not one of those huge "leg" towers, it will still be many, many feet high. Will this depreciate the value of our home? We've had no success with costly attorney visits.
-- M. and K. Sobresky
Dear M. and K.,
I would bet a bucket of bucks that the Realtor knew about the tower and is fibbing fiercely. Had you used your own agent in this deal, that potential neighborhood eyesore may have been called to your attention. "Your" Realtor in this case was serving as dual agent, which is, in essence, a double agent. If you watch spy movies, double agents always seem to favor the country or entity that's funneling them the most trade. In your own real-life drama, it seems the builder has found a double agent with a superpower: amnesia at will!
Yet, using the builder's agent in a new-home deal is a common mistake. Ostensibly, it saves on time, commission and paperwork, plus what could be wrong with a brand-new home or its neighborhood?
Had either of you asked the agent or builder if any nonresidential buildings or structures were planned in the neighborhood and were told "no," you'd have a case, as attorneys have no doubt told you by now. I'm also guessing you signed a "standard contract" without many protections (for you).
Buyers should always be sure to add a line to their purchase contracts asking sellers to disclose, roughly, "any noise, nuisances, eyesores or planned construction of any type" within a specified area. Attorneys probably also told you that such a tower, though conspicuous, is not actually next door to your property, so a lawsuit based on the intentional exclusion of that detail during sale talks might not, like the planned tower, hold water.
As for your loss-in-resale question, that's a tough one, in part because there's no apparent research on water-tower proximity. The closest things are two studies on a different, even more obtrusive sort of tower: the cell tower. Real estate agents in a U.K. study reported price drops as high as 10 percent for homes selling next to cell towers, but a study in one Florida community found only minimal decreases in value. From what I can tell, there's no apparent hard-and-fast "water-tower rule" employed by appraisers for the sake of valuations either.
But logic will tell you that prospective buyers always consider neighborhood aesthetics when making a purchase decision. Those who are less concerned may still factor in the resale potential issue when they see that tower.
In your case, the tower is small enough and far enough away that it won't automatically repel buyers. Plus, it sounds like you got a lot of house for your money in a growth location, all of which are factors that bode well if you want to escape from the tower's shadow in a few years. Meanwhile, my advice is to plant a couple of hearty trees that will eventually obscure the thing from your yard vistas.
I'm sorry to see this happen to such a nice couple who, I might note, sent me separate letters on this subject less than one day apart, unbeknownst to the other (one was out of town tending to an ill relative). You two are on the same page.
I wish I had better news. Good luck!