By Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin
Q: I recently purchased a home in Aurora, Ill. I received the sellers' disclosure form with no disclosures marked off. During my inspection of the home, the inspector noted some cracking and peeling paint that could be the result of moisture damage. He also noted that his review was limited due to personal items located in the basement and told me to look to the sellers' disclosure statement for more information.
I recently received an estimate for some basement work, and the contractor did verify that there were structural and water issues previously taken care of and patched. There are areas of the basement where waterproof paint had been applied.
I spoke with the attorney that represented me originally. I got the feeling that he did not want to pursue this case because he "gets a bunch of these phone call every time there is a heavy rain." I want someone to tell me what they can do for me. I've been researching and know that it can be a difficult case to prove, so I need to know if I even have recourse.
A: You raised two issues in your letter, one issue related to water infiltration and one relating to the sewer problem. If you have sewer backup coverage on your insurance policy, we're not sure why your insurance company decided to deny you coverage. You should try to follow up with the insurance company on that issue.
However, if the insurance company found something out about your sewer issue that caused them to deny your petition for coverage, you might want to know what that information was. Once you find out the company's reason for denying coverage under your policy, you can determine whether the issue is legitimate or the company is trying to wiggle its way out of paying you for a claim.
Turning to the issue of the seller disclosure form, you should know that sellers are required to complete state-mandated forms truthfully. There are circumstances in which the seller can be truthful about the state of the property on the date of closing, yet issues emerge that would cause new problems with a house.
We've seen air-conditioning systems blow, basements flood, ceilings leak, septic systems clog and sewer systems collapse within days of buyers closing their purchases. In each of these cases, those incidents were not related to anything the seller knew about the condition of the property, but rather due to the age of each of those items.
Proving that the seller knew about a particular issue can be hard. We once heard of a buyer who moved into a home and the basement of that home flooded when the water main burst. Apparently, the seller had made inadequate repairs to the water main and had instructed the plumber to make those repairs.
The buyer happened to call the same plumbing company to make the repairs and the same plumber came out that had made those inadequate repairs. That plumber had told the seller that the whole water main had to be replaced, and he had documents showing the recommendations of the plumbing company. The seller chose to ignore them.
You need to determine what repairs need to be made to your home to put it into the condition you thought it would be in when you purchased it, and the cost involved. Then you need to figure out if the seller knew of the problem and should have disclosed it to you.
Once you know the cost of the repairs and whether the seller should have disclosed the problems, you can decide if it's worth going after the seller. If the repair is minor, you probably won't spend the time and effort going after the seller. If the repair is huge and you find details that could prove the seller knew of the problem, you can decide whether you have a case against the seller.
We have to tell you that when there are historic rains, many homes that have been well cared for and have never had water problems in their basements suddenly face new water infiltration issues.
While you're addressing the problem, make sure your gutters and downspouts are clean, that the landscaping around your home is pitched away from it, and that new construction nearby hasn't changed the flow of water in your yard or neighborhood.
If your gutters and downspouts are clogged, you may have more water flowing down the walls of your home than the building can handle, and that is what is affecting the basement walls. The same is true if the ground around your home has dropped and is now pitched toward the building. Finally, new construction or additions to homes in the neighborhood can change the grade in an area, causing greater water to flow toward your home. When you move into a home, you should do what you can to make sure you've minimized the effects of these conditions on your property.
When you have more information in hand, you can decide whether to consult with an attorney who specializes in litigation.
(Ilyce R. Glink is the author of many books on real estate and host of "Real Estate Minute" on her YouTube.com/expertrealestatetips channel. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. If you have questions, you can call her radio show toll-free (800-972-8255) any Sunday, from 11a-1p EST. Contact Ilyce through her Web site, http://www.thinkglink.com.)