Failure to Disclose a Known Material Fact to Buyers

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My husband and I bought a golf course-view house in DELETED. We closed 5 days ago; moved-in 4 days ago; and 2 days ago found out that the golf course is scheduled to close. It was announced by the golf course management 2 years ago at the home-owners' association meeting, and the seller and her realtor most likely knew. But they did not disclose it to us, even though they had ample opportunity to do so. They had advertised the house everywhere as golf course view. We definitely would not have bought the house if we had known that the view is there only for 2 more months. We paid for the view and know that homes without a view like that go for a lot less.

Now a school or more homes are scheduled to be constructed in its place. What are our legal rights? Can we "return" the sale of the house?

Please advise. Thanks.

First off, I'm not attorney, so this is layman's perspective. Get an attorney who specializes in real estate in your state, and ask them. Each state has its own law.

Here in California, agents and sellers are liable for disclosing not only what they knew, but what they reasonably should have known. They are required to disclose all such information that a reasonable person might consider in their decision on whether to buy a particular property, and by well precedented legal extension, whether to pay a particular price. Cases have been decided based upon an increased water bill, that the court ruled should have tipped the owner off to the fact that there was a leak somewhere, and water is notorious for its erosional capability, among other things. Were you in California, it appears as if you might have a very strong case. I have no idea whatsoever about whether it's worth pursuing, even if the law in your state is similar. For that, you need to talk to a local attorney.

The first question that attorney is likely to ask you is what evidence you have that the former owner knew, or should have known, that the golf course was closing. Announced at homeowner's meeting is good. In the minutes is better. HOA informing all of the residents directly would be better yet. Neighborhood vows to get together and fight the closure? Probably best, especially if your home's former owners were somehow listed as being members or directors. That's the evidence they knew part.

Evidence that a reasonable person might not have bought that property at that price is pretty easy to come by in this case. Golf courses are highly desired, highly sought after neighbors on the part of many people, and golf course views are valued. Schools, not so much. People want good ones close, but they don't want to deal with playground noise, or high school football stadium noise for that matter. Advertisements of the property as being next to a golf course, or looking out over a golf course, would likely be good evidence to have, because it would show that the owners knew that golf course view was a part of their value, and they were committing this deception maliciously.

Then we get to the real crux of the matter: How certain are you that they didn't slip one piece of paper that says, "The golf course is closing so they can put a new school in" into that ream or four of paper you signed at closing? Or a few sentences on one of the standard disclosures? Not only whether they informed you, but also when and in what manner can be important. If they had a marching band blowing a fanfare to attract your attention to this fact before you had come to a final agreement, that likely blows any case you might have out of the water. If they slipped it into your stack of papers at closing, that might be a horse of a different color. Talk to your lawyer about that.

Now as to remedy. No matter how egregious it was, you're unlikely to get a free house out of it. Possibly, if the agent knowingly misrepresented the situation and you can prove it. Less likely if all you can show is that the seller know, but the agent may have been acting in good faith accordance with the seller's wishes. They shouldn't do this, but let's stipulate that nobody is perfect, and maybe they weren't being paid for that part of a listing agent's services. You may also be able to sue your agent, if you had one, for failure to protect you from these scalawags and perform their due diligence. Then again, if you didn't have a full service buyer's agent, you're not likely to be able to sue them successfully. If you're stuck with the former owner as your only legal target, you may still be able to get not only damages, but legal fees and possibly punitive damages out of it. Alternatively, you might also be able to force them to buy the property back, if you so desire, instead of the other remedies. Talk to your lawyer.

Caveat Emptor

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on January 16, 2014 7:00 AM.

The Tollbooth Model of Real Estate Agency was the previous entry in this blog.

"Fixes" for the Mortgage Meltdown - Seems You Can't Keep A Bad Idea Down is the next entry in this blog.

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