Hey, I'm buying that house. Please stop changing it!
May 9, 2010 7:12 PM   Subscribe

I made an offer to buy a house, it was accepted, contracts signed and earnest money paid. The sellers just changed the appearance of the house without any warning. Should I have been told about it beforehand?

The house had been on the market for six months, and is basically move-in ready except for the roof. I hired a home inspector who did a very thorough job, was warned about the roof in particular (and a few smaller things that are mostly due to the age of the house). I got a roofer in to do an inspection, and then let the seller's agent know that the roofer advised them to call in their insurance for an inspection as well. That inspection will happen tomorrow morning. We all seem to be treating each other very fairly and are eager to make this happen.

Today I drove by the house and discovered that the sellers have added a big and (to my eye) unattractive flagstone path leading up to the front door. I felt really shocked to see it. No one had notified me that any work was going to be done on any part of the house, much less the front center of the house. At the very least I wouldn't have had the inspection before the path was made, had I known. Ideally, I would have been able to stop them from spending the money for something I don't want or need.

It seems wrong to me that the sellers are legally able to do this. I know they still own the house, but I signed a contract and put down earnest money on the house as it was. Were they obligated to inform me of this change before it was made?

I've tried searching online for more information about this, but I'm not having any luck (probably a search term issue).

Does anyone out there have advice on how best to handle this? Do I have to just accept any changes they decide to make?
I think the path could be removed pretty easily with a couple hours work, so the path itself isn't a deal-breaker for me. It's the idea that they can just make any old change after the inspection without recourse.
(These are the worried things that are floating through my head: What if they do something like swap out a newer a/c unit for an older one? Or pull up the nice carpet and install cheap stuff? Or decide to panel the living room or harvest gold the kitchen? Is my only option to walk away and not buy the house?)

I'm not panicking at this point, and will meet with my realtor tomorrow at the inspection. But I'm hoping someone who has been through something like this can offer some suggestions. This is my first house-buying experience, in case that wasn't obvious, and this is in Austin, Tx.

Yes, yanml, yanmr, and all the other things you aren't.

Thanks for any help anyone can provide.
posted by Brody's chum to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are you sure that the house with the new path is the one you are bidding on and not neighbor's house that looks just like it? (Just kidding, but a thought). You put in an offer on the house as you saw it and not on something different. If they made a change and it's not something you asked for, or wanted, you could ask to amend the offer to include them returning it to the way it was when you bid on it, ask for money back so you can make the change, or let it go. As usual, IANAL so it's just my opinion.
posted by Flacka at 7:21 PM on May 9, 2010

A flagstone path as in flagstones laid or set into grass, a flagstone-cement monstrosity that you would have to jackhammer up to remove, or something in between?
posted by zippy at 7:27 PM on May 9, 2010

Best answer: This is something you need to bring to the attention of your realtor. Immediately.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:33 PM on May 9, 2010 [9 favorites]

Best answer: It seems an odd thing for the seller to do, unless they genuinely think it's something you'd like. Go easy on this; I suspect you're going to find that the seller is expecting you to be grateful.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:45 PM on May 9, 2010

Best answer: I'm guessing that, with the house on the market for six months, the sellers thought they would spruce up the place to make it more salable, contracted for the work and then felt telling you about it might jeopardize the deal. They also may feel it is a genuine improvement to the property. I would tread lightly but nevertheless step up to a better understanding. The route I would take is for the real estate agent to express to the sellers that you were surprised by the walkway and would have felt better about it if you had known in advance. We know what you mean. They know what you mean. But it is just a little less confrontational than saying what you might really want to say.

Next, your real estate agent should express to the sellers (who may be novices at this too) that they really must contact you before they do anything else to the property or its attachments. S/he can express this a little better than if you confront them directly, because s/he can express concern that you might freak out and blow the deal. Coming from a third party it is not a threat; it is just a statement of concern.
posted by Old Geezer at 8:11 PM on May 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

As stated already, this is a great question for your realtor (and, if you have one already, your lawyer). It may depend on what your contract says. I'm guessing that since you are having your roofing inspection done tomorrow, the deadline to request changes to the home hasn't passed, so asking the current owners to un-do the pathway is still an option.
posted by puritycontrol at 8:20 PM on May 9, 2010

I am also willing to bet that they'd contracted for the work prior to your contract on the property.

Talk to your realtor, who should be talking to their realtor, who will likely (hopefully) give them hell about making any further changes to the property. Yes, you can make them undo it, at their cost, though you may not want to bother.
posted by desuetude at 8:34 PM on May 9, 2010

If the flagstone walkway is truly hideous and they aren't prepared to assume all responsibility for its removal, I would have no problem asking for my money back and walking away from the deal. But I'm picky like that.

(Truth be told, I'd also be concerned that the walkway might be hiding a bigger issue, like invasive tree roots or something. If they do agree to remove it, have the inspector go over that area with a fine toothed comb.)

I just can't fathom why they wouldn't have informed you in advance ... maybe a close friend or family member owns the company that did the job (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) and they're going to try to write off the "improvement" on their taxes or something. Who knows? It just seems a really weird and expensive thing to do at the last minute, especially without consulting the (potential) new owner.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 9:28 PM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I think it's completely appropriate to question the seller's motivation for installing this, especially after contracts have been signed.

As St. Alla of the Bunnies said above, this is the time to call your realtor. Situations like this are why they earn a commission. You are not only paying them to facilitate the sale and its paperwork, you are also paying them to be your informed and professional advocate in all sale-related negotiations.
posted by mosk at 11:06 PM on May 9, 2010

As St. Alla of the Bunnies said above, this is the time to call your realtor. Situations like this are why they earn a commission.

Give me a break, I try to keep an open mind about real estate agents and brokers but just about any "Realtor" brand real estate agent is going to say to go ahead and close, because that's how they get paid. You really think that a realtor is going to say, no, don't close? No, they are going to try to find a way for this still to go through, your interests notwithstanding. At this point, your incentives are strongly misaligned.

Your first call should be to your lawyer - this is probably covered in your Purchase Agreement. IANYL.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 6:58 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

You know, he can call BOTH. The realtor will let him know what options he has to choose from depending on what he (the seller) wants as the ultimate outcome: the lawyer can give specifics. But it's up to the realtor to negotiate with the seller as far as: do the buyers wish the path ripped up before closing, or would they prefer as part of the deal there to be an allowance for the path to be ripped up, or do they simply want reassurance that nothing else has been done to the house? If the buyers want the house, there are ways to get what they want without killing the deal. And THIS is what Realtors are expert at.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:17 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Call your Realtor and let them know you want either the house reverted to the previous condition or money to revert after you gain possession.

But I'll also urge heavy inspection of the work; It's so bizarre that a seller would spend money after an offer has been accepted that it would make me worry. Even if the seller had previously contracted for the work at most they should be out their deposit and even if they had paid in full the risk of queering the deal but making changes should have had them refusing to allow work to proceed.
posted by Mitheral at 8:41 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just bought a house last November. I distinctly recall that before closing, we had a final walkthrough to verify that nothing had been changed in the house since we had viewed and decided to buy it. The new flagstones are definitely something to have your realtor give the seller a hard time for. I would imagine you can either bargain for it to be removed, or ask the seller for a discount to cover the cost of removing it, since they installed it after you signed the contracts. In negotiating terms, this is a golden opportunity to extract concessions from them.

As for any of the other changes that you are nervous about, if they do change things, you are within your rights to walk away and get your deposit back. If you don't, I'm sure the realtor would file amended offers that demand that they restore the house to the condition that it was in when you decided to buy. If you are nervous about them changing things, take lots of pictures tomorrow, note down model and part numbers of major equipment, and be ready to verify that everything is the same when you do your final inspection/walkthrough.
posted by zompus at 8:52 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mod note: A few comments removed, please take the argument and any spousal-defense stuff to email and stick to actually answering the question in here.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:09 AM on May 10, 2010

IMHO, this is a 'red flag' - it is highly unusual for work of any sort to be done on a property once the sale is underway. your realtor is the first person to talk to. it's their job. if, after talking to them and you still feel there's a 'red flag' somewhere, the next course would be to review the sale with your attorney.

I also tend to agree with Chocolate Pickle - the sellers might be just plain kooky and think somehow this is an 'improvement' you'd be grateful/thankful for. If this is the case, again, have the realtor(s) deal with it. Perhaps this is the first time the sellers are selling property, and simply don't know better. If it's a gesture of good will, albeit rather misguided, it would be overkill to sic the lawyer on them out of the gate.

Good luck, and it might not hurt to at least get out on the table that no further work or improvements are to be done to the property unless you are notified, in writing, first AND give your approval (also in writing).
posted by kuppajava at 11:03 AM on May 10, 2010

Response by poster: Man, I just wrote a long explanation, previewed it and was about to post it when I decided to mark a couple best answers, which completely wiped out my long explanation. Ok, here's the deal:

The sellers are senior citizens who haven't sold a house before.
The pathway was the very last part of a landscaping project they had done when the put the house on the market.
They had an old, damaged path removed as part of the landscaping and thought its absence was as glaring and ugly to everyone else as it was to them.
They pushed the landscapers to finish the project now to show the buyer (me) how cooperative they were.

My realtor has made it clear to the listing agent (who was not notified of the work, either, until we called her about it) that:
we are unhappy about not being notified of this beforehand
we will bring in an inspector
we shouldn't have to pay for this additional inspection
we want to know of any other projects before any work begins
if any other changes get made to the house without our prior knowledge, this will be a deal-breaker.

My mind is at ease about this. I believe that Choc. Pickle and Old Geezer are right in that it wasn't done to be sneaky or to hide anything. They really thought I would like it and take it as a sign of their continued cooperation.
If the inspector finds flaws with the path, then we will make the removal cost a condition for closing. If nothing is wrong with it, I think we will just live with it for a few months before we take any action. Maybe it will weather well.

Thank you all very much for your advice. It helped me clarify a course of action.
posted by Brody's chum at 3:04 PM on May 10, 2010

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