Today I closed on my first house! $174,000 with 4 bedrooms, 2 full bathrooms, attached garage, and 2,170 square feet.
Fraudulent house flippers conceal building problems, passing them on to unsuspecting buyers. Victims take on major financial burdens, and recovery may be impossible.
Tree falls on house
Less than 24 hours after closing, my next door neighbor’s giant oak tree falls onto my house! It had uprooted, crossed over the property line fence, puncturing the garage roof. Luckily, my day-old homeowner’s insurance covered the tree removal and house repair.
Temporary roof tarp following tree damage
Carpenters arrive and temporarily patch up my roof with a blue tarp.
Move in day!
Soon, my family and I move in to our new home with the help of friends and relatives. It was beautifully finished from top to bottom. We were so excited to own our first house!
Day 2 – Bathroom fan replaced
Like any responsible home buyer, I had the property inspected before purchasing. One of the few things my inspector found was that this bathroom fan was not ducted through the roof, so it was blowing moisture into the attic. We promptly had it replaced by a professional. ($460.32)
Day 3 – Subtle Hints
None of my cable outlets are working so I called my provider for service. ($64.25)
The technician discovers that none of the outlets are hooked up to the household service except for one that is so badly damaged that it barely works.
I also discover that one of my cupboard doors is not attached and it comes off its hinges when opened.
And the hookup hoses for my laundry machine are connected backwards. (Hot water connected to cold input and vice versa.)
While these are minor infractions, they help paint a bigger picture of the major problems that are about to be discovered.
Cheap, shoddy work
I discovered that the downstairs bathtub had improperly cut tile, leaving a gap for water to get inside the wall behind the shower controls escutcheon plate. The trim kit will have to be removed, the faulty tile carefully taken out, and a new one cut to take its place.
I also learn that the master bedroom walk-in closet, rec room closet, and laundry room dipwire shelves are not attached to studs. Instead, they are mounted with flimsy plastic anchors that easily tear out of the drywall when weight is put on the shelves.
Additionally, a downstairs storage closet had handles installed on the wrong half of bi-fold doors.
Day 12 – Water Damage
I discover a large puddle of water on the laundry room floor that is leaking through the ceiling. The upstairs bathroom is directly overhead. A plumber is called in to diagnose the problem.
He discovers that the water is coming from the upstairs shower control manifold which is badly leaking inside the walls.
He also discovers that the framing behind the walls is badly burnt from a soldering blow torch.
The plumber suspects that the house has several other plumbing problems, and I agree to let him cut some small inspection holes in the drywall.
He discovers that the downstairs toilet, sink, tub, shower, and laundry tub are all plumbed without venting pipes.
The downstairs corner shower has a fixed shower head that only aims water to spray out the shower door.
The shower drain was illegally connected into the wrong size and type of pipe, and has no P-trap.
He also discovers illegal electrical wiring , and six additional water leaks inside the walls.
The laundry drain was illegally reduced from a 2” pipe down to 1 ½” pipe.
One of the drain pipe Y-unions is installed backwards! What’s more, the PVC drain pipe is illegally cemented into a sewer clean-out access.
The upstairs bathtub drain uses an illegal T-union into the rest of the drain system.
The water damage from the upstairs bathroom leaks has caused the drywall of the laundry room ceiling and walls to crack.
The plumber discovered more problems beneath the kitchen sink.
The garbage disposal switch was illegally wired into a metal box without a plastic bushing.
An air admittance valve (illegal in Minnesota) was used underneath the kitchen sink instead of a proper vent stack.
The garbage disposal was plumbed to the dishwasher with an illegal hose.
Most of the water lines were pieced together with alternating scraps of soft copper pipes (instead of rigid) and radiant floor heating hoses (instead of pex pipes). All soldered plumbing unions were done in place, badly burning the framing next to them.
The upstairs bathroom faucet was missing parts for the drain lever.
The water pipes were never fastened to the house framing.
At this point, the plumber informs me that all of this work was likely done by the same person, illegally, without a permit, and that all of it is failing. Both of my bathrooms and kitchen become un-usable. My house had been flipped by somebody who cut an obscene amount of corners.
My realtor also visits the house to see the problems for himself. I’m informed that there are no lemon laws for houses and the sale cannot be reversed. I’m not sure what to do.
The most dangerous document when buying a house
At the time of purchase, my realtor had coached me into waiving the disclosures notice (which means I bought the house “as is”). I was reluctant to sign it, but it was my first time working with a realtor, and he was referred by a family member. My realtor said that waiving the disclosures is very common, and not a big deal. He also warned me that if I didn’t sign, I’d lose the house to another buyer.
Now that my house has erupted with problems just days after closing, I am confronting my realtor about the situation and my options. He suggests that I go into real estate arbitration through his agency.
I contact a lawyer and begin researching my legal options. We decide to prepare for an approach that is not under the thumb of the real estate agency. Later, this would turn out to be bad advice.
Day 14 – Online Evidence Discovered
I did some online research and discovered some photos of the house on Zillow.com dated as recently as October 1, 2012. The pictures showed that the house looked very different and had clearly undergone a major remodel before it was sold to me.
The front entry closet had been removed.
The galley kitchen had been completely gutted and re-done with recycled cabinetry and low-end fixtures. The adjacent dining room had a closet removed.
One of the major kitchen walls had been removed.
In the basement, the flipper removed a load-bearing support column to make the room look bigger!
At this point it had become clear that our house had been purchased by a flipper on October 16, 2012 for $84,900. Over the next 4 months, the flipper secretly remodeled the house without building permits or licensed contractors until February 19, 2013. During the remodel, Major walls had been removed to make the house feel more open. He then re-sold the property to us at a 200% markup.
Additionally, the description of the property states that the house has a new roof, windows, and floors among other things. I can’t help but wonder if these have problems, too.