Reader Question: We have a real estate complaint. Our Realtor failed to tell us that the house we purchased has been sitting empty and unoccupied for 8-10 years. We knew it was on the market for the last two years. We chose not to buy an earlier house that sat empty for four years unoccupied unless they would sell at a much lower price. She knew we passed on the first house over these issues but failed to disclose the vacancy term on the home we bought. I would have never bought the house nor paid the price we did, had we known. Is there any legal recourse we can take for this nondisclosure?
Monty’s Answer: There is not enough information provided to supply a quality reply for you. Every state has different real estate laws. Because of these differences, the contracts involved are also different. What I can do is lay out the major options to consider for consumers who believe they experienced unfair treatment.
Summarize your experience
It would be helpful for you to prepare a concise one-page summary of the events that took place. Attach the purchase contract and associated notices, amendments and any other paperwork that supports your assertions. For example, if you filled out a needs assessment form for the agent that states “no vacant houses,” or if you have an email from the agent, or from you to the agent, where you state your desire not to buy any extended vacancy home.
You are not limited to choosing one of the following resources. If you go ahead, each source may provide different outcomes. Explain your predicament in a written document and make multiple copies. This step will save you, and the person (or people) you speak with, a lot of time. It also ensures you have all the facts together and do not miss any valuable information if a face-to-face meeting takes place.
Here are your options
To seek more information, explain your situation, and potentially obtain relief:
- The offending real estate company. Every real estate company has a designated broker who is responsible for the acts of their agents. They should be very interested in listening to your story, understanding your expectations for relief, and investigate the circumstances before reaching a conclusion. Most brokers also carry insurance to protect the company from errors and omissions. They also cull agents who generate complaints that prove to be illegal or unethical.
- The state-licensing agency. Every state government licenses real estate companies, real estate brokers, and agents. This department is located in the state capital city and has a website where a consumer can find instructions for obtaining more information or filing a complaint. Some states accept complaints filed online. The site will also contain contact telephone numbers and email addresses. Some complaints may be closed after the initial review process. They will investigate some complaints. Those investigations may or may not result in discipline. The range of discipline may include reprimand, suspension, limitation or revocation of a license. Agents have a healthy respect for these departments because revocation of a license may mean finding a new line of work.
- An attorney licensed and located in the same state as the property. The areas of practice to look for include real estate and business law. Here is a link at https://dearmonty.com/8-tips-find-good-real-estate-attorney/ that may be helpful. The attorney may seek mediation or the courts to attempt to obtain money judgments against the real estate company and the agent.
Be prepared to answer questions. Did the agent remain silent on the subject, or did they state it was vacant for two years? If the agent remained silent, why did you not inquire about the vacancy term? Has the extended vacancy period been confirmed?
There is no certainty
Know that your efforts may, or may not result in relief from the outcome you experienced. Real estate transactions and the laws associated with protecting consumer interests and fair dealing can be complicated and get to one person versus another’s recollection of the same conversation that took place months, or years ago. Oral remarks from agents, buyers, sellers and even observers can sometimes be misunderstood or erode over time.
Dear Monty believes real estate generates more consumer complaints than most regulated businesses and that many complaints go unreported. The reasons vary, but common reasons are; cost, embarrassment, time-consuming, fear of retribution, or a stacked process works against them. Complain if you were damaged.