Homebuyer says oversight cost him $10,000
Angie’s List member Jeremy Lunsford barely finished moving into his new home in September 2012 when the utility company shut down his water heater and boiler, he says.
The Minneapolis resident and his wife Megan needed to move out until they could replace the unit, which came as a surprise because his real estate agent and the seller’s told him contractors fixed the unit before he closed on the purchase of the home, he says.
Lunsford says he filed a lawsuit against both real estate agents and their agencies, the former owners of the house, and the relocation company selling the house. But, according to Hennepin County court records, the court dismissed his complaint for failure to demonstrate an entitlement to relief and awarded him no money.
The Lunsfords spent more than $10,000 for a new water heater and boiler, and as a result, they couldn’t afford work they needed, such as replacing the windows, or expenses they planned, such as landscaping, replacing furniture they’ve owned for 10 years and interior painting, Megan says. “Things like that make a house a home. We haven’t been able to focus on those things,” she says. “This really took a lot of the joy out of what should have been an exciting time. At this point, the only thing we can do is help people avoid making the same kind of mistake by sharing some insight.”
Jeremy noticed the backdrafting while moving boxes to and from the basement, he says. “If I was down there for any period of time, I would get these headaches,” he says. “That’s not common for me, so something seemed to be amiss.”
He called CenterPoint Energy, which shut down the system within five minutes because of a backdraft, he says.
They lived with Megan’s parents for about three weeks because they didn’t have hot water or heat, he says. They would drive back and forth between their home and her parents’ home, about 30 minutes away, and lived mostly out of their car, she says. “We thought we’d be moving in and setting up furniture, hosting friends and family to show them the new place,” she says. “We weren’t able to do any of that because we had to spend all our time contacting companies to get quotes and setting up appointments.”
Before the closing
City inspectors detected a backdraft issue before the purchase of the home, Jeremy says. A backdraft happens when exhaust gases spill into the home instead of venting outside. Jeremy says he told his Realtor he wanted the issue addressed. “She goes ‘yeah, no big deal, we will require them to get a certification,’” he says.
He started asking for the certification when he received a signed copy of the purchase agreement, he says. “I just wanted to have it. I wanted that peace of mind,” he says. “Every time I asked for it, I was told ‘we’re going to get it to you; the work was done; you can be rest assured the problem was addressed; we just don’t have it in our hands at this point in time.’”
The seller’s Realtor, Marty Siegel with Coldwell Banker Burnet in Edina, Minn. — which is poorly rated on the List, based on the Lunsfords’ sole review — provided documentation, which didn’t specify whether contractors fixed the backdraft; it called the work a tuneup, Jeremy says, adding that the documentation didn’t mention any certification. “It looked like a database dump,” he says. “I pushed back and said ‘clearly somebody came and looked at this, but I don’t see any mention of backdrafting. I just want to make sure that this fixed the problem.’”
Siegel emailed the Lunsfords’ Realtor, Catherine Seck with Edina Realty in Wayzata, Minn., stating a contractor corrected the heating system’s problem, Jeremy says, and his Realtor passed the message along without any objections.
The city accepted a safety inspection report from the utility company CenterPoint, approved the work completed at the home and issued a satisfaction certificate as a result of that report, Siegel says via an email message. Siegel advised Jeremy to contact CenterPoint about its findings, and invited him to bring his own contractor to inspect the boiler, he says. Jeremy says he contacted CenterPoint, but they couldn’t explain their specific work since he didn’t hire them.
Additionally, Jeremy says he contacted city officials before closing. He asked why they issued a certificate of approval without any mention of the backdraft issue, and they told him everything looked normal, he says.
Seck referred questions to Edina Realty corporate spokeswoman Maria Verven, who says Seck recommended Jeremy hire his own company to inspect the heating system before closing. “Edina Realty’s advice to anyone buying a home would be that they hire a home inspector, which Mr. Lunsford did, and then get a second opinion from a licensed expert if they’re concerned about anything in particular,” she says.
Jeremy says Seck never suggested he delay the closing or hire his own contractor to inspect the work. Also, he says she never passed along Siegel’s suggestion of hiring a contractor to inspect the work.
Still, he believed contractors fixed the problem because of the people telling him the issue was resolved, he says. “The previous owners, the selling agent and the City of Minneapolis all told us it was fixed, and our agent raised no concerns. The documentation that was provided was not what I was expecting, so we asked again and were told the same thing,” he says. “We relied on the words of the Realtors, city and the previous homeowners, and they were all wrong. It’s frustrating that in this situation, when they all failed, we were the ones that had to pay.”
Jeremy bought the home through a relocation sale, meaning the home went on the market because the owner needed to transfer out of town for work. As part of the relocation sale, Jeremy says he needed to sign waivers and agreements, and he asked his Realtor about each form he signed. “We would ask her, ‘what is this? What are we waiving? Translate this for us,’” he says. “Her response for almost everything was ‘this is just standard boilerplate relocation, you’re not really giving up anything as a result of this document. It’s just standard, nothing abnormal.’”
During the court case, the defendants brought these documents to use as part of their defense, Jeremy says. He says he found this frustrating, partly because he has muliple emails from the seller and seller’s agent in response to his inquiries about the heating system. “Every time, it was a consistent message: yes it’s fine, yes it’s fine,” he says. “Then when it’s not fine, it becomes my fault.” In hindsight, he says he wishes he consulted a lawyer before closing on the purchase.
His advice to anyone else purchasing a home? Trust your gut, and if you don’t want to close until you have a certain document, don’t close until you have that document, he says. “In hindsight, that’s advice I would expect from a Realtor,” he says. “Acting as our agent to tell us ‘no, if you’re not comfortable, you’re not going to move an inch. You don’t need to feel pressured. You’re making a huge investment here. We want to make sure the unit’s safe.’”