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Q&A: Should I have disclosed home repair?

Q: For the sale of our house, we were advised not to disclose an experience we had with water in our basement when the drain backed up. We were told that since the problem had been fixed and had happened seven years prior to sale of the house and never happened again, we didn't have to disclose it. Was this the correct advice? The present owner said we failed to disclose this event and is asking for money.

A: If the problem has been completely fixed and happened seven years prior to the sale of the home, it's hard for the new buyer to prove that it is a material defect, particularly if the problem hasn't happened again.

Most seller disclosure laws require sellers to disclose to buyers known problems that still exist with a home but that aren't readily apparent. If the law required sellers to disclose all known problems they have had with their homes (whether fixed or not), you could imagine the list a buyer could receive from a seller who lived in a home for 10 years: new roofs, repair of plumbing issues, repair of broken stove parts, a host of electrical or mechanical problems that were fixed.

Frankly, if the seller hasn't had any problems with the drain in the basement and now simply wants money because he found out you had a problem there seven years ago, that seems to be out of line. However, if the problem has come up again due to a fix you made on the cheap, the buyer may have a point. The one thing you have on your side is that you made the repair seven years ago.

We once knew some buyers who purchased an expensive home and the disclosures they received seemed all in order. But a week after buying the home, the water main burst and flooded the basement, causing $20,000 in damage.

The owners called a plumbing company and, in a twist of fate, the plumber that had previously repaired the water main told these buyers that he had made a bubble gum repair job on the water line at the direction of the sellers because they refused to spend the money that was really needed to get the job done.

Needless to say, the sellers in that story ended up having to pay for the repairs and for the damage done to the house.

That said, just remember that you could be sued and that it could cost you a lot of money even if you win. Please consult with a litigator with seller disclosure experience for a qualified legal opinion and a review of your options.

Ilyce Glink's latest book is "Buy, Close, Move In!" Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Need some advice? E-mail your questions to realestate@newsday.com.

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