The House Detective: by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector
Dear Barry: Since purchasing our home, numerous cracks have appeared in the walls. Some are as wide as half-an-inch. We’ve also noticed that patching has been done at many of these cracks, indicating that the sellers of the home were aware of the problem but had attempted to hide it. None of this was reported by our home inspector when we were in escrow. How serious do you think this problem is, and what should we do about it? Thomas
Dear Thomas: Cracks as wide as half-an-inch indicate a major structural problem with the foundation system and/or instability of the soil. The fact that so much movement has occurred since the cracks were patched warrants immediate attention and concern. When symptoms such as these are intentionally masked in order to sell a property, some home inspectors are able to see through the concealment. But when cosmetic repairs are effectively done, it is sometimes possible to prevent discovery of building settlement by a home inspector.
Your first course of action is to notify all parties to the transaction by certified mail. Inform the home inspector, the sellers, their agent, and your agent that there are serious, undisclosed problems with the home and ask that they all come to the property to see what is taking place. And don’t perform any manner of repair work in the meantime. Inform all parties, particularly the sellers, that you want a detailed structural engineering report on the home. The sellers should accept whatever costs are necessary to repair the structural defects, as determined by the engineer. If no one is willing to cooperate, you should enlist the aid of an experienced real estate attorney.