How do I ease dad's worries about his recently sold house?
May 5, 2006 6:39 AM   Subscribe

Help me put my father's mind at ease, please. He retired & sold his house & relocated out of state. He is losing sleep at night, worrying that he will be sued by the buyers of his house.

The house - a brick structure - was built in the 20's. He has taken great care of it, but he thinks the brick foundation started to crumble. This is not why he moved. It was a bigger house than he needed & he wanted warmer weather. Anyway, he got an agent, put the house on the market, it sold within 2 weeks. They buyer had an agent & the home was inspected. He still thinks that if the new people find the foundation not perfect, they will come back and try to sue my dad. He never tried to hide the foundation problems. He doesn't have a lot of experience with real estate, this was the first house he ever bought & he lived there for 40 years. The whole buying/selling process is a bit much for him to grasp all at once. I've told him that the new owners had it inspected (although not by a structural engineer), and that people sell homes that aren't perfect all the time and don't get sued. It's not like the house is going to fall down anytime soon! I can't really find any information online to prove to him that he needs to quit the worrying, and I'm a bit clueless about liability and rights of sellers/buyers as well. But hopefully - he doesn't have to worry too much, right?
posted by Alpenglow to Law & Government (22 answers total)
His situation depends very much on the law of the state the house is in. Different states have different standards for how much disclosure sellers must provide buyers in residential real estate sales.
posted by grimmelm at 6:49 AM on May 5, 2006

What state is he in? The purpose of an inspection is to make sure both sides are happy with the condition of a given structure.

From my limited experience (my folks flipped a brick house in Georgia and I shuttled paperwork for them,) documentation is signed, stating that Party B is happy with the property that Party A is selling after said inspection and that suing most likely won't occur.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 6:49 AM on May 5, 2006

Best answer: Did this transaction take place also in GA? ( I looked for your location)
I'm familiar with situations like this in NJ/NY area-- I can offer u more advice if u want to email, but too many variables here.
However, if the buyers did a final walk thru prior to the close and the house was inspected by a state cert. inspector chosen and approved by the buyers-- then there's a general understanding that all issues are resolved at time of closing.
If there's major structural problems, then the liability exists with the home inspector and not your father as the seller.

But again-- I don't know which state this is or the local real estate code of ethics. Ask your father to consult his attorney who handled the closing.
posted by GoodJob! at 6:53 AM on May 5, 2006

Response by poster: Chicago, Illinois
posted by Alpenglow at 6:53 AM on May 5, 2006

There are disclosure laws about this, at least in some states. If he knew and didn't disclose it, then he could be sued (especially if he signed something that said everything was ok). The problem is proving that he knew about it would be difficult to do.
posted by tadellin at 6:54 AM on May 5, 2006

"Perfect" is an impossible expectation for any aspect of an 80-year-old house. If there's no likelihood of immediate collapse, he can relax.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:56 AM on May 5, 2006

Unless he told the realtor... If so that should have been disclosed to any interested party. Otherwise it is usually caveat emptor. No warranty was expressed or implied..
posted by Gungho at 6:57 AM on May 5, 2006

INAL: Did he mention the problem in the seller's disclosure? If so, the buyers could sue, but I doubt they'd win. If he didn't disclose the problem, then he could be liable. At least in PA, the seller is required to disclose all known (major) problems with the house. I'd be pretty pissed if I moved into a house and subsequently discovered on-going problems that the sellers obviously knew about but failed to mention.
posted by malp at 7:05 AM on May 5, 2006

In Connecticut, there is also a disclosure law...It seems your dad disclosed what he thought might be a potential problem. Additionally, the inspector is more likely to be responsible should the new owner get up[set and try to do something. Your father's being worried is a sign that he is a good and decent person.
posted by Postroad at 7:07 AM on May 5, 2006

Is the mortar between the bricks crumbling or soft?

If it's just the mortar, then the house needs to be repointed, it's no big deal. It's inevitable with brick or stone. If the bricks themselves are crumbling and/or the foundation giving way, the inspector would have noticed. If the foundation was sagging, you'd have cracks and damage visible in the home. It's one of the top two or three things they look for: electrical problems, roof condition/water leaks, and foundation and structural integrity.

Can you be more specific about what he is worried about? Did you see the condition of the foundation yourself?
posted by voidcontext at 7:09 AM on May 5, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks everyone.

I haven't seen what he's talking about. He worries that maybe there are bigger problems that will be revealed if the new people pull up carpeting & see where the floors & walls hit. I think he's imagining the worst - and probably thinks that the stair-shaped crack - that is visible to everyone, and I'm sure the inspector saw it - is an indication of larger problems that he doesn't see. I don't think he disclosed anything, because other than a few visible cracks & some gaps on the hard-wood areas, he really doesn't know the extent of the problem. He would never try to screw anyone over - but he's a worry-wart and always expects the worst.
posted by Alpenglow at 7:22 AM on May 5, 2006

I bet he's all worrywort because he's freaking out a bit about his rather significant move. Remind him that he's more considerate than 99% of the house sellers out there, but the laws are made for unscrupulous bastards. Ergo, he's fine, since he's not an unscrupulous bastard -- he took great care of the house, and his worries are exactly what inspectors are for.
posted by desuetude at 7:30 AM on May 5, 2006

Is this really about the house at all, or is your dad having trouble adjusting to the move? Does he have friends where he is now? Does he get out, have interests, and otherwise seem well-adjusted?

(My apologies if I am on the wrong track here.)
posted by LarryC at 7:43 AM on May 5, 2006

The inspector the buyers hired is more likely to be in legal hot water than your dad. I think he is worrying over nothing.
posted by mathowie at 7:51 AM on May 5, 2006

It would be a much bigger concern (depending upon local disclosure laws re: real estate sales) if he knew (actual expert opinion of a structural engineer) that there was a problem with the foundation. As I understand the OP, he only suspected that there might be a problem with the foundation. In that case, there was nothing to disclose.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 8:01 AM on May 5, 2006

Best answer: I think this is less about the specifics of the house, and more about the generalized anxiety that older people often experience. I agree with the posters who say this might be a reaction to the move in general, and his fixation on the crumbling foundation is misplaced anxiety.

Go ahead and give him as much info as you can find about his liability (which I believe is very little), but don't be surprised if he continues to obsess.

Additionally try to help him get settled in the new place. Spend time with him there (if you can) or put together information about his new neighborhood that he might find useful.

If this anxiety persists beyond reason, talk to him about seeing a psychiatrist (one who specializes in geriatrics if he is over 60). It's not uncommon for older folks who go through these sorts of life changes to become depressed, and your dad might benefit from some sort of medication, but a professional will make that assessment

I am not a psychiatrist, but I am an MSW and I worked at a senior citizens center for a couple of years. This type of situation was VERY common.
posted by kimdog at 8:27 AM on May 5, 2006

Assuming he filled out the statutory disclosure form required here in IL truthfully, he is fine.

Also, you can gently remind him that nobody buys an 80-year-old brick house and expects perfection.
posted by MrZero at 9:03 AM on May 5, 2006

When I sold our house in Oregon two years ago, we had to sign a disclosure statement, which was essentially a checklist (with some fill-in-the-blanks) about the condition of the house. This was given to the buyer. When we bought our new (old) house, the seller had to do the same thing. Did your father have to do something similar? I wouldn't worry about it too much. I think that most people who buy a house -- especially an old house -- realize that they're buying a home with "character". Our house certainly has issues, including some we didn't notice before the purchase, but we would never hold the previous owner responsible. Of course, we're not litigious people, either...
posted by jdroth at 9:21 AM on May 5, 2006

I'd argue against trying to go into specific, detailed information. There is no evidence that there is any significant problem with the foundation, your father did everything legally necessary. In an 80+ year old house some cracks and foundation issues are inevitable. The inspector saw what was there and communicated it to the buyers. As you say, your dad is of a worrying disposition and as many others have pointed out this is being pushed by the major life stress of moving. He's feeling a little out of control and this is the "cause" he's fixating on... but giving him a bunch of complicated information about state laws and liability (which will necessarily be filtered through your own relative ignorance, no offense) will just give him more to brood on and worry about. At this point you can tell him you asked a bunch of people including lawyers and doctors and stuff and they all said he'd done everything necessary, and he has absolutely nothing to worry about.
posted by nanojath at 9:58 AM on May 5, 2006

Wouldn't the inspector be on the hook for the problems? After all, if there are big problems, he's supposed to be the guy who finds them.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:03 AM on May 5, 2006

The home inspector should know exactly what signs to look for with any foundation concerns. If anything is out of acceptable tolerances that should be listed in the report. If something is listed in the report a structural engineer will have to go and look at foundation. The house could still be fine, that is within accepted tolerances.
Just went through that with a mid 60s house in Texas.
posted by sailormouth at 10:33 AM on May 5, 2006

He should be fine. Did he KNOW of any significant problems? No. Did he try to hide any problems? No. And by now if anything showed up, who's to say it didn't happen after the sale?

Of course, people can and do sue whether or not they have grounds all the time. But I'd think that if the buyers had any sense they'd have made sure their home inspection took a look at the foundation anyway. My educated guess is he has nothing to worry about.
posted by konolia at 11:52 AM on May 5, 2006

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