Exercise contract rights before closing

MAILBAG

Basic document covers condition of property

September 09, 2001

Dear Mr. Azrael,

We just bought a house in Bel Air and feel we paid too much for it.

Why?

The day we came from New Jersey [for settlement] and finally saw the house (without furniture) it was filthy. The owner was supposed to cut the grass and get the pool in working condition but did not. The wallpaper was falling off the walls. (The wallpaper was not falling off when we first looked at the house.) The walls were not painted as they had said they did, etc. The biggest thing was the amount of dog hair all over the house.

We had talked to the people who had owned the house and they had assured us that they cleaned all the time and the dog didn't shed. Well, that was a lie.

We called our Realtor to tell her how unhappy we were with the condition of the house, and she said there's nothing that could be done.

Is there anything we can do?

Jacqueline Sheets

Bel Air

Dear Ms. Sheets:

In resale of homes, most real estate brokers in Maryland use a standard form of contract published by the Maryland Association of Realtors.

The MAR contract includes a specific paragraph dealing with "Condition of Property and Possession."

The MAR contract states:

At settlements, Seller shall deliver possession of the property and shall leave 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 except as otherwise specified in the contract, including this paragraph, the property is sold "as is."

Your letter doesn't say whether you and your daughter inspected the home before or after closing. You would have been well advised to take advantage of your right to a presettlement walk-through.

Most people would agree that a filthy house with dog hair all over is not "broom clean." The pool equipment was not in working condition and the peeling wallpaper was not in substantially the same condition as existed on the date the contract was accepted.

You could have delayed settlement until the seller corrected these conditions, as required by the contract. As an alternative, you and the seller may have agreed to hold some of the seller's sale proceeds in escrow until the cleanup and repairs were made.

Since you've closed on the property without exercising your contract rights, the seller may now claim that you've waived all claims based on obvious conditions that existed before the settlement.

If your money damages warrant it, you should ask your attorney to review the entire transaction and advise you fully as to your possible legal rights.

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