Not checking for defects can lead to unpleasant — and costly — surprises on move-in day

Reporter/Byline: Mark Weisleder for the Toronto Star

Buyers must take responsibility to check for minor defects in a home, as they may not be protected if they discover problems after closing.

gnw_inspector

The general rule is that a seller isn’t obligated to disclose defects that are visible to a buyer; however, the seller cannot try to conceal obvious defects either. The following case demonstrates that this is not always easy to figure out.

Randall and Catharine Reiss bought a home from Dr. Emil and Maria Grigore in West Lorne, Ont. in January 2005. The sellers had been in the home 14 years.

The buyers had two opportunities to visit the home before making the offer. The second visit took at least two hours. Mr. Reiss was an electrician and chose not to bother with a home inspection.

He asked the sellers whether they had experienced problems with the air conditioning, furnace or plumbing systems; they said no. He asked whether all the windows opened; the answer was yes. He tested just one of the windows himself. He also checked under many of the rugs in the home.

After closing, the Reisses discovered numerous problems with the home and sued. The list of complaints included the following:

There was soapy water and dishes in the kitchen sink at the time of the visits. After closing, the buyers noticed that the entire sink was rusted and needed replacing.

Some of the window cranks didn’t work, so the windows would not open.

There was a large stain under the bed in the master bedroom, which resulted in the buyer having to replace the entire bedroom broadloom.

There were 50 cracked tiles around the bathtub and on the bathroom floor that were concealed by a combination of a rug, a vase and a stack of towels.

According to the buyers, the defects — despite being minor — were purposely concealed by the sellers.

The sellers maintained that they didn’t mislead the Reisses and didn’t conceal anything. They gave the buyers as long as they needed to inspect the home before making an offer. They didn’t own a dishwasher, so they said it wasn’t unusual for dishes to be piled up in the sink.

Their dog slept under the bed and they said it must have had accidents that they weren’t aware of. They tried to remove the stain when they noticed it before moving but were unsuccessful.

The case was decided on June 30, 2010. Justice Lynne Leitch noted that the sellers were long-standing members of the community, who had family in the area and were not trying to move away and offload a home with problems. She accepted the sellers’ explanations and denied the buyers any damages.

The lesson is that buyers must do their own due diligence when visiting a property, before making an offer. This includes testing all windows, looking behind artwork, under rugs and lifting things off the counters. Test the appliances, electrical outlets and faucets as well.

Being prepared before you make an offer will prevent unpleasant surprises after closing.

First published in the Toronto Star on February 22, 2013

Related reading:

How to hire a home inspector

Achieve the homeownership dream sooner