Could there be anything worse than Snakes on a Plane?
A Maryland couple are suing the seller and her agent claiming they knew the house was infested with snakes. The buyers, during the course of their due diligence, spoke with neighbors regarding the property and learn that it had “a snake problem” in the past. The buyers spoke with the seller’s agent (who is also the mother of the Seller), who assured her that the rumor was untrue and that there were no snakes in the home. The seller’s agent represented that they had a pest company conduct a “snake away” and that infrared pictures of the walls were taken. The buyer’s agent requested this documentation prior to a settlement but it was never produced and the transaction closed anyway.
After moving into the home the Buyers retained a pest control service that started finding snake skins that were being shed. Shortly thereafter, snakes started coming out of hibernation. The family observed numerous snakes in the basement that were coming from the walls including a 7 foot Black Rat snake. They attempted to remediate the problem but were informed that the house was not safe for small children. Apparently, the infestation was so bad that even if the home was completely torn down and rebuilt, there was no guarantee that the snake problem would not return.
Even though the home was purchased for approximately $419,000, the homeowners were suing for damages in the amount of $2 million which included a request for punitive damages in the amount of $1 million (these types of damages are excluded from Errors and Omissions Insurance). Although the snakes in the home are not poisonous, they leave behind a distinct smell and feces which attract other snakes. The Seller has recently filed a Motion to Dismiss because the Purchase Agreement contained a mandatory mediation provision.
PRACTICE POINTER: Real Estate Agents, absent actual knowledge that the client’s statements are false, are generally not held responsible for the misrepresentations of a seller. However, when representing friends and family, it certainly puts the licensee in a potentially more damaging position because of the relationship with the seller. Remember, no commission is worth your license and when representing family and friends, you should be even more diligent in addressing disclosures and documenting your actual knowledge from that of the representations of the seller. Friends and family may assume that certain conditions of the home are going to be disclosed by you since you have personal knowledge. However, it is important for you to stress that the real property disclosure form is based entirely upon their knowledge and that to the extent any of the representations conflict with your information about the property, you would be obligated by statute to disclose such discrepancies to the buyers. Accordingly, while friends and loved ones can be a great source of business, licensees must impart upon the client the importance of full disclosure.