1. Archive

Obvious oversight not a swindle

Published Oct. 8, 2005

Question: We got swindled. Do we have any recourse?

My wife and I were shown five or six houses in one day by a real estate agent. Our minds had become a blur, but, when we got to the last house, the realty agent said he thought the seller would carry the mortgage at 8 percent interest with just a 10 percent down payment. Since we were stretching our budget to buy a home, when we inspected this house we were both thinking how easy the financing would be.

Unfortunately, we neglected to inspect the house carefully. It was empty. The seller had moved out. The rooms looked large.

We should have noticed but we both missed the fact that two of the three bedrooms lack closets! Not until we closed the sale and started moving in did we realize there was no place to hang our children's clothes.

Unfortunately, there is no suitable space to build closets. Shouldn't the seller and realty agent have disclosed to us the lack of closets in two bedrooms? _ Richard U.

Answer: A sharp realty agent would have pointed out the lack of closets. Realty agents have a legal duty to emphasize physical defects of which they are aware, such as a leaky roof, but buyers are presumed to observe obvious defects.

I'm certain there must be some space in the bedrooms where you can either build small closets in a corner or install attractive armoires such as I have observed in the finest hotels.

"As is' homes need close inspections

Question: I am looking for a modest home to purchase. At the Sunday open houses I have attended, several of the information sheets I was given by the agents state the house is being sold "as is."

Exactly what does this mean? Is it good or bad for a home buyer?

Answer: Some homes are offered for sale "as is" when they need major repairs for which the seller will not pay. Common examples are probate sales where the estate executor or administrator is not aware of defects because he or she has not resided in the home.

Legally, an "as is" sale means the seller and realty agent make no representations or warranties and the seller will not pay for any necessary repairs.

In everyday language, an "as is" home sale means "buyer beware" and inspect extra carefully because something is probably wrong with this house. Most home sellers do not sell "as is."

When a home is offered for sale "as is," that usually means something is wrong with the house but it is up to the buyer to find out the problem. Of course, be sure to make your purchase offer contingent on your approval of a professional inspection report on the home.

Seller may reject

full price offer

Question: At a Sunday afternoon open house we inspected the perfect home for our family. Although the asking price seemed a bit high, not many homes come up for sale in the neighborhood so we decided to offer the full asking price.

The agent who was holding the open house wrote up our purchase offer. She encouraged us to make it as simple as possible because the seller is elderly and might get confused. Therefore, our offer was all-cash with no contingencies since the house was in perfect condition.

However, that evening the agent phoned to tell us the seller had rejected our full-price, all-cash offer. She said the seller wants more money for the house, but we think the seller rejected our offer because of our Hispanic names.

How can we force the seller to sell to us? We really want that house.

Answer: A home seller cannot be forced to sell a home, even at its full asking price, which is merely an invitation for offers at that price. However, since the listing agent obtained your very unusual full-price, all-cash purchase offer, she is entitled to the full sales commission from the seller although no sale took place.

Anti-discrimination laws, specifically the Civil Rights Act of 1966, prohibit racial discrimination by home sellers, but just because you have Hispanic names and your purchase offer was rejected by the seller is not evidence of illegal discrimination. The same thing could have happened to a buyer of the seller's race.

I wish there was something you could do to force the seller to sell to you, but a seller doesn't have to accept even a full-price purchase offer. Please consult your attorney for further details.

Enlarge as last resort

Question: Our home is a modest three-bedroom house. However, my wife recently gave me the good news we are expecting our third child.

This presents a slight problem. We need a fourth bedroom and another bathroom.

Although we can add on to our home, then it will be the biggest house in the neighborhood. We love our location and most of our neighbors, but we wonder if we should be looking for a larger home.

What should we do?

Answer: Please be careful. Don't over-improve your home for its neighborhood. If you add a fourth bedroom and another bathroom, you might never be able to recover the cost if you should decide to sell.

For example, spending $25,000 to raise your home's market value by $25,000 or less is not a smart investment. Spend a few weekends looking at larger homes for possible purchase.

Only after you have checked out the marketplace will you be in an intelligent position to decide if you should improve your current home or buy a larger home.

Robert J. Bruss is a nationally syndicated columnist on real estate. Write to him in care of the Tribune Media Syndicate, c/o the Times, 64 E Concord St., Orlando, FL 32801. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column. Because of the volume of mail, personal answers to questions are impossible.