Friday, October 20, 2006

Q: We bought a waterfront place six months ago and now have a real problem.

The septic system has failed completely and the septic people we’ve talked to say that it’ll take months to try to get a repair project through the County. They also warned us that it will be very expensive because it was an inadequate system to begin with. Apparently the elderly lady who lived there didn’t use much water. When we moved in with our family of five we “blew out the system” in his words. We’d like a recommendation for an attorney since we want to sue the real estate agent that sold us the house.

A: I’m sorry to hear of your troubles. Many of our waterfront homes have very marginal septic systems and, sadly, your story is not all that unusual. I am not an attorney of course, but you should review the booklet The Law of Real Estate Agency (available in our office). Under state law an agent does not have a duty to investigate matters or do research. They must disclose material defects, but only those known to them or obviously observable by anyone.

In my practice of real estate, I do a great deal of investigating, but frankly, this puts me at risk because I am stepping beyond the role assigned to me by law. I have had many years of experience with things like failed septic systems, flooding basements, slide hazards, and other such issues, so I am very concerned about what can be seen and (even more importantly) what can’t be seen.

I think that most of the best agents are willing to dig a little deeper to discover everything they can about a property when they represent a buyer. But keep in mind that real estate agents are not inspectors or engineers and some of these problems and defects are not easy to discover. It might have taken a real leap to consider that your larger family would have overtaxed the septic system.

Q: My brother just made an offer on a manufactured home on a few acres on Vashon.

It's a 1996 so it's only 10 years old but I told him that they don't last more than about 15 years anyway. Can you please set him straight?

A: Oh, boy did you ask the wrong person. I promote manufactured housing as a good alternative to those who want acreage but can't afford our $500,000 to $700,000 price tag for custom construction on acreage. It's been a long time since factory built housing was called a trailer. I've sold manufactured homes here that are 30 years old and still providing a solid home for a family. Some have needed upgrades, as do "stick built" homes that old, but they are doing their job of providing a home. I currently have three such sales of manufactured homes on acreage. None of these buyers could afford acreage unless they purchased manufactured homes.

Today's manufactured homes are built to the same basic code as any other housing. They all have 2 X 6 exterior walls and energy efficient insulation. They have the same electrical service and plumbing that is code in any home. Newer manufactured home have sheetrock walls, vaulted ceilings, spacious rooms, wood floors, soaking or jacuzzi tubs, at least three bedrooms, two bathrooms, dining, and family rooms.

Once the home is sited on the property and landscaped with the addition of porches and decks, they are indistinguishable from "stick built" homes. Our company recently sold a lovely manufactured home that was in high demand. People didn't even realize that it was manufactured!

Older mobile homes in mobile home parks can lose value and often deteriorate, but newer manufactured homes are attractive and roomy with all the amenitites that most people want in a home. If finer finish work is desired, that can be added later just as it is to "stick built" houses.

Just be happy that your brother will have a home with some acreage in our wonderful community.