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Learn from the first-hand experiences of others.

Slide background

Learn from the first-hand experiences of others.

Slide background

Learn from the first-hand experiences of others.

Slide background

Learn from the first-hand experiences of others.


people found Curtis's experience helpful.

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The Situation

It all started with an unsolicited phone call one Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1992. A real estate agent introduced herself; she was trying to get established in the local market and asked if we knew someone looking to buy or sell a home.

Actually, we were, I told her. I had just been hired for a job that required a 40-mile daily commute, and my wife and I intended to relocate as soon as we could put our home on the market.

In that case, she replied, she would be delighted to find us a buyer. She offered to sweeten the deal by accepting a lower commission and represent both us and the buyer. Knowing what I know now, the equivalent of a submarine diving alarm — oogah! — should have sounded. But since this was my first home sale experience, I thought, "What the heck. Go for it."

The Missing Bathtub Drain

So we went for it, and it looked as if everything would be fine. We accepted the buyer’s offer and signed the forms. One of those many forms was a disclosure list, and we listed every defect we could think of that the buyer should know about the home. (We didn’t know about the gophers — yet.)

On the day we met the buyers and walked through the home with our real estate agent, everything seemed to be going well. Upon inspection of the main bathroom, our agent pointed out that we needed to repair the missing drain stopper in the tub. I swallowed my irritation and agreed to get it fixed.

There were some other minor fix-it issues, so we hired a handyman. We told him about an access panel on the other side of the wall separating the bathroom from our den. We found that panel when we first moved in and surmised that it was for the purpose of accessing the tub.

We were wrong, because you actually can repair a tub drain stopper from the front. But sometimes the brain disengages when false assumptions take over, and the handyman did nothing to dissuade us from our erroneous job scoping.

Based on that assumption, we figured the stopper repair job had to be done from underneath and inside the wall. (See the previous allusion to the submarine klaxon, because now we’re going to find the gophers.)

The Mud Behind the Wall

Long story short, we removed the wall paneling and found dirt packed waist high around the tub. Gophers had entered through a gap in the concrete between the drain and the foundation and made themselves a cozy tub-heated steam room.

Throughout our 13-year stay in the home, we had, from time to time, heard scratching and scrabbling sounds in the tub area. Our home was adjacent to a field that had gopher mounds everywhere. We should have hired an exterminator, but we never figured those critters could get in.

So what began as a $60 minor fix-up quickly became $600, as the handyman had to dig out the mud, patch the concrete around the drainpipe gap, and, yes, fix the drain stopper.

Our agent probably didn’t want to know about all this, but we told her anyway. She insisted that we remain silent, apparently figuring that the undisclosed problem had become moot, given our aggressive corrective action. As things turned out, she was wrong.

The Final Inspection and the Call from the Real Estate Agent

We closed the sale after the final home inspection and moved to the small town near my new job. We had been in our new location more than a year when our agent called and said that the new owners had found additional water damage in the bathroom wall next to the bedroom. This damage was not connected to our friends, the gophers.

Our agent and the inspector were liable because they had signed off on the house. She told me that she would probably lose all her commission on the sale. Her purpose in calling was to pressure me into paying for the new repairs. I told her I’d think about it and get back to her. It has been 21 years now, and I’m still thinking about it.

Lessons Learned

If I had a do-over on this home sale, I would have done at least three things differently:

1. I would have hired a real estate agent to represent me exclusively.

2. At the first sign of pest infestation, I would have called an exterminator.

3. I would have hired a qualified plumber to repair the tub drain stopper.

Some states ban the practice of dual real estate agent representation, and others require disclosures about potential conflicts of interest. My experience was a classic example of the pitfalls of the latter. However, since this first unpleasant experience, I have dealt with more than one dedicated, competent and outstanding real estate agent. This agent was the first and only exception, and I'm sure this was also a learning experience for her.

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