“I just bought a house and it’s messed up! Can I sue?”

June 12, 2023

I just had a friend introduce me to a coworker of his, describing the problem as follows:

I have someone I want to introduce you to. [REDACTED] works with us and has recently purchased a house. Approximately 35ish days after closing, they noticed water dripping into the basement, below the kitchen. A quick call to [PLUMBING COMPANY] revealed some jack-leggery and some out-of-code conditions – to the tune of $12,000ish. … Is this – too bad, so sad or is there some recourse. [PLUMBING COMPANY] commented that it should have been found in the inspection…

Here’s my emailed response:

[REDACTED], thanks so much for thinking of me. [REDACTED], I’m very sorry for what you’re going through. I will also say, sight-unseen, there’s likely not much I can do for you.

With the obvious caveat that I haven’t actually seen your purchase and sale agreement, most residential real estate transactions in Georgia are done with realtors, and almost all of them use some version of the forms promulgated by the Georgia Association of Realtors. I have seen GAR’s form PSA many, many times, and it has pretty solid language to the effect that “the buyer takes the property as-is”. So unless there was a specific representation related to the plumbing, which you can prove, or some other activity by the seller to cover it up, which you can prove, or some evidence that the seller knew of a latent defect in the plumbing and kept his mouth shut, which you can prove, then you are likely out of luck with the seller.

If you had a pre-purchase inspection done, then you may have a claim against him for missing an obvious problem. Those claims can be difficult to prove, however, and you should read your inspection report/contract carefully, as home inspectors are better at limiting their own liability than just about any profession I can think of (including my own). In all likelihood, even if you could prove the inspector missed something, your damages are likely limited to whatever you paid the inspector. If you can demonstrate a violation of a professional standard of care, and the inspector had E&O coverage, then you might be able to get more, but given that home inspection is not a regulated profession in Georgia, this is unlikely.

There is also the practical reality that, in the world of litigation, $12k just isn’t very much money. I can tell you that you would probably spend at least that much with me just to litigate the case. And, not only are you not at all guaranteed to win as noted above, it would also take months if not years to take to trial. Frankly, I would rather you put the same money toward getting the repairs done, and save yourself the headache.

I’m sorry there’s not happier news I can share. And if you want to send me your PSA and your home inspection, I’m happy to take a look. But the above is likely where you are at this point.

Thanks, and let me know if you have any questions.

When you’re buying a house in Georgia, you really MUST do your due diligence. You should assume that once you’ve closed, it’s yours – warts and all – and that you have no recourse against the seller. That’s certainly not always the case, and we’re happy to help if we can if you find a defective condition – just make sure you did everything you could to find it before you closed.