Dear Monty: Emotion trumps logic in home purchase dispute
By Richard Montgomery
Reader Question: We have an accepted offer on a home. We learned that the floor is vinyl, not laminate as stated on the listing data sheet. Unlike laminate, vinyl adds no value to the house. We asked for a $3,000 price reduction which was less than half of a new laminate floor price. We do not want the sellers to suffer for this since the seller when asked, said it was vinyl. The agent made a mistake when completing the listing sheet. The agent says because the listing sheet reads all information may not be accurate she is protected. We do not think so. We wonder if it was deliberate as laminate floors add value to the home. We are contemplating walking away if the agent will not correct their error. We want this house, and we feel sorry for the seniors that own it, but vinyl is not laminate. If we buy the house can we go after the listing agent since she is the one responsible?
Monty’s Answer: The laws in every state vary on such issues. The language on the data sheet does little to protect her. Consult an attorney in your state to answer your question. Before you proceed, consider these thoughts and questions:
- You are asking the agent to contribute $3,000 to their error. Most real estate companies today ask the seller to sign off on the data sheet information. It is unknown if this real estate company had the seller sign off as a requirement, but if they did, and the sellers signed off on the laminate, it is possible they misled the agent and then misled you.
- While you are sympathetic toward the sellers, the contract is between you and the sellers. The sellers may be more likely and able to reduce the price than the agent is likely or able to write you a check.
- The fact the difference in the floors had to be pointed out to you suggests other buyers would not notice, or possibly even care, about the differences between laminated and vinyl products. There are certain situations where vinyl may be a better choice in a home. A bathroom may be a good example or a laundry room. Vinyl is superior to laminate when moisture is a possibility.
- It appears you believe the agent deliberately changed the information to make the home more salable. Your sense of decency may be urging you to expose her, so others do not suffer a similar fate. There are other possibilities as to what else could have happened. One might be that the agent mistook the flooring for laminate because they also did not know the difference.
- You assigned a $3,000 value to the difference between vinyl and laminate. You determined the cost of the laminate to install is $6,000. There are different grades of both products. A cheap laminate may not be much more expensive than a top-end vinyl. It may be difficult to demonstrate the $3,000 difference in value in the marketplace. Is the floor new? If not how old is the floor? Did a contractor provide a written estimate of the $6,000 cost?
An alternate course
Consider contacting the agent’s broker. The broker’s slant on this situation may be different. Some real estate companies will go to great lengths to satisfy a customer in such circumstances. They do not want an errors and omissions insurance claim this size as their deductible may be higher than the cost to settle. If they discover the agent was in error, they may settle with you as a matter of principle. They will also want to avoid a complaint to the state real estate regulators.
If you like this home, you may not want to lose it on principle. While $3,000 is not pocket change, it may be a relatively small amount of money to allow it to burn up too much of your time and energy. It is possible you could invest your money and not win the argument. It could also be that you win the battle but the cost to prevail is more than the laminate is worth.
Consider using that energy and money to make additional investments in your new home. If you develop evidence of wrongdoing as opposed to a simple error, the state will be interested in investigating your claim. The complaint option takes less of your time and costs little money.
Richard Montgomery is the author of “House Money – An Insider’s Secrets to Saving Thousands When You Buy or Sell a Home.” He is a real estate industry veteran who advocates industry reform and offers readers unbiased real estate advice. Ask him questions at DearMonty.com.