So much is written about the careless lending part of the housing boom - robosigning, falsifying paperwork, not knowing who really holds a mortgage, etc. - that we forget about all the other things that were in high demand at the time. With all the buying and selling going on, a lot of other things got rushed.
We've come to understand over the past few years that our home inspector missed a ton. For one, he never discovered that our entire HVAC system needed to be replaced right off the bat. After the fact, I discussed it with the owner of the company. The extent of the inspector's due diligence on the HVAC? He turned it on and "it blew hot air." He admitted on the phone that he hadn't even come to the rear of the house, where he would have discovered that the A/C units weren't even touching the concrete pads outside. The ground had settled under them, and they were literally hanging off the side of the house, supported only by the copper pipe heading into the home.
The inspectors never mentioned the drainage problems that led to a closing-day flood in our basement, which led to our having to rip out the entirety of the finished basement and re-do the entire thing.
They missed a ton of other things, too. Dead electrical outlets, non-compliant wiring, a waste line leak and a bunch of other things. In most places, where they couldn't get a good look at something, they stated so on the report they gave us. In other spots, though, especially with the HVAC - they gave it a clean bill of health.
In retrospect, I should have sued them. Now, I'm coming to understand that many other aspects of my property aren't in compliance with Brookhaven Town Code.
I will probably speak to a land use attorney about who was responsible for disclosing non-compliance to me at closing. We want to put in a swimming pool and have waiting a significant length of time to save up enough money to do so. I don't know the rules about disclosure of things like non-compliance with town code. All I know is that I came into possession of a piece of real estate that had a bunch of hidden problems:
- The property is significantly overcleared. I have to spend significant money to revegetate and ensure that revegetated areas contain a certain number of certain types of trees and shrubs. Trees have to be a certain thickness. Other vegetation needs to be from a specific list of native plants.
- My shed is basically illegal. It's over the 140 square feet threshold beyond which the town requires it to be permitted. There was never a permit. I'm unsure what it's built on, but code requires 12 inch wide concrete footings, 36" deep. I could jack up the shed and pour footings, but I'm not sure it will withstand that kind of treatment and it will probably be cheaper to simply demolish it and put up another one that complies with town code. No small task considering the shed has its own electrical subpanel.
- I have an illegal fence. Our fence was falling down, and we got a contractor to come in and put up a PVC fence. He had to set it back 40 feet from the prior fence line along one edge, or we would have had to make the fence only a 4' high split rail, which affords no privacy and wouldn't work for a pool. But there was already a picket fence there. I lost 40' X 153' of usable back yard. moving the fence closer. That's over 6,000 square feet of property. Plus, I have to knock down the old fence sections and cart them away.
We had always aspired to put in a pool. In fact, we mentioned it many times as we were considering buying the house. Our last house had an in-ground pool, and my wife and I grew up with pools. We're pool people, and we want our kids to swim as well. Our kids take swimming lessons. We were really looking forward to this.
But instead of simply calling Swim King and plopping down our deposit, we're trying to figure out how to quickly bring our property into compliance with all these undisclosed code issues. We're working with an engineer and a surveyor in addition to the various contractors involved.
Now, let me ask you this... How can all these issues skate by undisclosed without it raising any red flags with anybody? The law is clear that the ultimate responsibility lies with the landowner, which is now me. But what, precisely, was I supposed to do that I didn't do when I purchased the house? Was I supposed to sit down with a copy of the outdated survey, break open the Big Ol' Book of Brookhaven Town Code, estimate the percentage of the property that was cleared myself and look for inconsistencies? How the heck was I supposed to know that no one had a permit for the shed? What would have tipped me off that the fence was illegal?
All I know at this point is that I'm the one who has to pay for this lack of visibility. And I do things the right way, which means whatever gets done will be in compliance with the town's wishes. And it's going to cost me a ton, I'm sure.