Buyer who ignored inspection results has little chance of winning lawsuit

DEAR MR. MYERS: I agreed to purchase a house in June. The report prepared by the inspector noted that there were water stains on the ceiling above the kitchen, but I closed on the deal anyway. It recently rained very hard, and water leaked from the ceiling and damaged the floor. Can I sue the seller or either of the agents for failing to tell me about the problem?

ANSWER: You could sue, but you probably would not win.

A lawsuit similar to the one that you’re contemplating was decided in a seller’s favor by the South Carolina Court of Appeals in 2008. In the landmark case McLaughlin v. Williams, buyer McLaughlin’s home-inspection report suggested that there was evidence of water damage to the exterior of the home. A later inspection found the presence of wood-destroying fungi and a high level of moisture underneath the kitchen floor.

The seller’s disclosure form did not mention any of these problems, but McLaughlin bought the house anyway.

Barely six weeks after moving in, the buyer learned of major defects in the home that was caused by prior water damage. He then sued the seller, the seller’s agent and his own broker for fraud and negligent misrepresentation.

A lower court judge ruled in seller Williams’ favor. The state’s appellate court later upheld that decision, noting that the buyer had received two different reports suggesting that the home had some major problems even though the seller didn’t tell him about it, thus negating the claims against the seller and brokers alike for misrepresenting the physical condition of the house.

Although the appellate court’s ruling in South Carolina technically applies only in the Palmetto State, it can be cited as legal grounds for sellers and real estate agents to fend off similar lawsuits in other parts of the nation. Talk to an attorney to explore all of your options.

REAL ESTATE TRVIA: Fraud is the most common claim made in lawsuits against real estate agents, according to ActiveRain, a network of more than 285,000 salespeople and brokers across the nation. Breach of duty is second, followed by breach of contract and then negligence.

DEAR MR. MYERS: What was the cost to repair or replace the buildings that were damaged or destroyed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001?

ANSWER: The replacement cost of the buildings destroyed in New York’s World Trade Center alone has been estimated to be as much as $4.5 billion, according to the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, a nonprofit think-tank. Another $1 billion was needed to repair the Pentagon.

Billions more were needed to fix or replace roads, sewers and other parts of the public infrastructure.

I hope my readers will pause for a moment today to remember the 2,753 people who lost their lives on that grim day 15 years ago, and perhaps say a prayer for the estimated 422,000 New Yorkers who still suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder linked to 9 /11.

DEAR MR. MYERS: We live in an older home that doesn’t have enough electrical outlets to run all of our modern-day electronic devices, so we use a lot of extension cords through the house. We run the cords under our carpet and throw rugs to avoiding tripping over them, but my brother said it’s dangerous because the cords can overheat when they are covered up by carpeting. Is this true?

ANSWER: Yes. Extension cords are more likely to short-out or catch fire when they’re covered up, posing serious risks to the homeowners who use them and to the house itself.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is so concerned about the overuse of extension cords – especially the poorly constructed, unlabled ones sold at many discount stores – that it placed them on its “Substantial Hazard List” last year.

Consider hiring an electrician to install new, conventional grounded outlets in the areas where you need electricity most. It can be an expensive proposition, but no price is too high when it comes to the safety of your family.

At the very least, inspect all the cords in your home. Throw out any that may have loose or missing prongs, split or worn casings or simply look like they were cheaply constructed. Replace them with new ones approved by Underwriters Laboratories, or “UL,” which only certifies cords that meet pre-set safety standards.

Finally, get the right cord for the job. Experts at the respected This Old House Magazine say that a 16-gauge cord can handle most small household appliances, such as fans or lamps, that draw up to 13 amps. A thicker, 14-gauge cord is needed for larger appliances or power tools that use a maximum of 15 amps.

A 12-gauge cord is required for electric compressors, generators and other items that pull as much as 20 amps.

David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.