You’ve found your dream home, gotten all the necessary paperwork and payments done, and you’ve moved in all your belongings. Everything seems to be going well until one day, you notice something isn’t quite right. You’ve found defects after closing on your house.
What can you do now? Do you have any legal recourse to get compensation for the issues you have identified?
WHAT IS EXPECTED OF SELLERS WHEN DISCLOSING DEFECTS?
Laws on what needs to be disclosed and how the disclosures are communicated to the potential buyers vary from state to state.
Most states, however, require that sellers disclose “material defects” prior to any sale. These disclosures, in most states, must be made in writing and given to anyone viewing the property.
WHAT SORTS OF THINGS ARE CONSIDERED “MATERIAL DEFECTS?”
A material defect is any issue with a component or system that could impact the value of the property or cause harm to the residents. The types of issues that must be disclosed vary from state to state, but some common disclosure requirements include:
- Structural damage, such as cracks in the foundation
- Plumbing problems
- Needed repairs to the heating or cooling systems
- Roof leaks
- Previous flood damage
- Termite damage
- Lead-based paint
- Presence of asbestos
WHAT HAPPENS IF DEFECTS ARE FOUND DURING A PRE-CLOSING INSPECTION?
Once you have put an offer in on a house, most lenders require a home inspection. This allows the lender to better understand the condition of the home and spot any undisclosed defects, decreasing the likelihood that you will find defects after closing.
If defects are found, you have the opportunity to back out of your offer or, depending on how involved or expensive repairs are, change your offer to reflect the defects. For situations when you choose to change your offer, the bargaining can include requiring the sellers to fix important problems or significantly adjusting the selling price down to accommodate the cost of repairs you will make.
This pre-closing inspection also is valuable, as it may give you insight on the condition of the property, how to operate and care for important systems, and even when you can expect that certain components – roof, siding, furnace, and water heater, for example – will need to be replaced.
WHAT DO I DO IF I FIND DEFECTS AFTER CLOSING?
While the pre-closing home inspection is intended to catch any defects that may impact the health of the inhabitants of the home or that could prove costly for the lender, things do get missed and you can find defects after closing.
The first step is to thoroughly document the defect as soon as you discover it. If the furnace breaks down and a repair technician states that the problem was already present and the previous owners had attempted to fix it with duct tape.
Take photos, write down all information you remember, and consider asking the repair technician for a signed statement regarding his findings.
First, try to make a claim with your homeowner’s insurance company.
If they pay for any repairs or replacements, then pursuing further compensation is unnecessary.
However, if your insurance company denies the claim, you may want to consult with an attorney well-versed in civil lawsuits and who is licensed to practice in your state. He or she will be able to help you determine if you have any recourse in getting someone else to pay for the repairs.
Depending on the situation, the sellers, the sellers’ real estate agent, or even the home inspector could be considered responsible for the repairs if it is found that the defect was known before selling and not disclosed.
In some cases, having your attorney draft a letter detailing the damage and requesting payment is enough to get payment for the defects after closing. However, you may need to file a lawsuit to get the problem settled officially.
Help for Your Legal Questions
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