Buyer's rights examined

Mailbag

September 20, 1998

Dear Mr. Azrael:

We have settled on a condo in Ocean City [and] so far we have been pleased with it until we turned the air conditioner on and had no [cold] air.

We got somebody to check it out and he found a bad condensing motor. The motor had been installed and wired improperly. The mechanic indicated that it burned out within 15 to 20 minutes after they installed it.

Our mechanic installed a new fan. My husband and I would like to know if the seller should be responsible for this. They did not reveal that there was a problem.

Norman and Faye Grover

Stevensville

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Grover:

Except in the case of new homes, sellers of residential condominiums or homes are not required to guarantee or warrant the condition of the property or the equipment in it. Whether you have legal rights against the seller will depend on the terms of your particular contract to purchase the condominium.

You (or your lawyer) need to read your contract carefully to see if the seller promised that the air-conditioning system would be in working order on the date of settlement. The standard residential contract of sale, published by the Maryland State Board of Realtors, states:

Condition of property and possession: At settlement, seller shall deliver possession of the property and shall deliver the property vacant, clear of trash and debris, broom clean and in substantially the same condition as existed on the date of the contract acceptance. All electrical, heating, air conditioning (if any), plumbing (including well and septic), and any other mechanical systems and related equipment, appliances and smoke detector(s) included in this contract shall be in working condition. Buyer reserves the right to inspect the property within five (5) days prior to settlement.

If your contract contains the same or a similar provision, you may have legal rights against the seller. You would have to prove, of course, that the defective condition of the air-conditioning unit existed when you settled on the condominium.

A seller of used residential properties is required to give to the buyer a document that either discloses known conditions about the property or disclaims any representations about the property's condition. Again, you or your attorney need to check your particular contract of sale to see if the seller disclosed any information about the air-conditioning system or (as is more likely) disclaimed any representations about the property's condition.

Many purchasers arrange for a walk-through inspection within several days before settlement so they can test all systems and appliances to make sure they are working properly. It is a lot easier to deal with defects prior to settlement than to wait until months later to go back and ask the seller to pay repair costs.

Sometimes it is not possible to check out an air-conditioning or heating system prior to settlement because weather conditions do not allow an adequate test. This situation can be addressed by the seller and buyer signing a specific agreement providing for a later test at an appropriate time after settlement. The agreement would specify that the seller will pay to correct any defects found at the time the test occurs.

Pub Date: 9/20/98

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