Finding Hidden Termite Damage after Moving In
Even with Coronavirus, the Maryland real estate market is moving forward. Home buyers continue to put houses under contract, termite/WDI inspections continue to be scheduled and performed, and house sales continue to close. The start of the 2020 real estate market also means that Whitney, LLP has begun to receive calls and emails from home buyers who moved into their houses and found termite damaged wood that was not disclosed before they closed. Home owners need to know that they are able to sue and file a lawsuit to recover compensation for the cost of fixing termite damage and treating termite infestations.
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In March 2020, Whitney, LLP received our first call of the year from a home buyer seeking a lawyer for their termite damage claims. The call was from a buyer in the Baltimore area who bought in March, moved in, and found termite damage on a structural beam that the pre-sale WDI/termite inspection did not find due to negligence from an incomplete inspection. This scenario is familiar to us as we have provided legal representation and recovered compensation for home buyers across Maryland in termite claims and litigation.
Termite damage is known to occur across Maryland, including in its largest cities of Annapolis, Baltimore, Columbia, Germantown, Silver Spring, Waldorf, Frederick, Ellicott City, Glen Burnie, Gaithersburg, Rockville and Bethesda.
Home buyers that find termite damage in their new home have to hire termite damage repair contractors to get estimates, possibly hire structural engineers to evaluate the termite repairs that need to be performed, and most importantly, figure out how to pay for the termite damage repairs in their new home. This can be very stressful. Whitney, LLP’s lawyers can help.
Whitney, LLP represents home buyers in hidden and non-disclosed termite damage cases, and helps them sue to recover damages. The responsible parties can include the seller, either the buyer’s or seller’s real estate agent, the brokerages involved, the termite/WDI inspection company, and the contracting company that performed renovations but failed to properly address termite damage they discovered. Results from some of Whitney, LLP’s prior termite damage cases can be reviewed here.
Call us at 410 583 8000, or use our Quick Contact Form to get started with discussing your potential case.
Who Is Responsible for Pre-Sale Disclosure of Termite Damage to Buyers?
Several parties can be responsible for disclosing termite damage before a sale.
Before a house is closed on, termite damage is usually disclosed in one of two ways to the potential buyers. First, the seller of a house has a duty to disclose latent defects, which includes wood damaged from wood destroying insects including termites and powder post beetles. A seller that knows of wood damage has to disclose it to potential buyers. This is true even when the house is sold as-is. It is a common misconception among sellers, including house flippers, that when they sell a house as-is, they do not have to disclose any problems. That is wrong – sellers, even when the house is sold as-is, still have a duty to disclose latent defects, including hidden termite damage. Surprisingly, even some real estate agents are unaware of the disclosure requirements in the sale of as-is residential real estate.
The second way that wood damage from termite is usually discovered by buyers while the house is under contract is through the Wood Destroying Insect Inspection, also referred to as the WDI, or termite inspection. This inspection should always be recommended by a buyer’s real estate agent to their clients who are considering the purchase of a property.
Realtors in Maryland know that termite damage is a real and hidden risk in any property, and their fiduciary duties include discussing the available inspections and explaining to clients why these inspections are important. The WDI/termite inspection is performed by a licensed pest control contractor, who is supposed to investigate and inspect all available and reachable areas of the home, including the interior, exterior, basements, crawlspaces, structural beams, and other areas of the home for signs of old termite damage, signs of new termite damage, and active termites themselves.
Finding Hidden Termite Damage After Moving In
Despite the duty of a seller to disclose hidden termite damage they know about, and despite having a WDI/termite inspection performed, home buyers sometimes discover termite activity after moving in.
One of the most common reasons new buyers discover hidden damage are that a seller, especially a flipper, or house flipping company, found damage during renovations, and decided to hide it instead of spending the time and money to remove and repair the damage. We have had several cases, including in Pikesville, Owings Mills and Glen Burnie, where dishonest house flippers and sellers uncovered termite damage during renovations, only to hide it behind new drywall, put new flooring directly on top of the damage, hide it by sealing off the area where it is located, or simply ignore it and cover it up another way.
In these cases, it is not uncommon to find new plywood nailed directly into obviously damaged wood, find electrical wiring with a recent date run through termite damaged wood, or see other signs of an obvious coverup. “They just covered up the termite damage” and “the seller lied about termite damage” are common phrases we have heard from surprised and upset home buyers.
A second one of the most common reasons a home purchaser moves in and uncovers hidden termite damage is because the termite inspection company performed a negligent inspection. When it comes to a termite inspection, negligence refers to an incomplete inspection, including:
- a technician missing signs of damage that they should have noticed and investigated further;
- The termite inspector not going into all available areas of the house, such as a basement, crawlspace or attic, all of which are known to be hotspots for signs termite damage;
- Rushing through the inspection; and
- Finding a little bit of termite damage but failing to inform the potential buyer that the damage was likely to be worse than what was discovered, and failing to recommend a more thorough inspection.
When termite damage is discovered during a WDI, the buyer’s real estate agent should recommend to their client that additional investigation be done, usually including removing drywall, and other exploratory action, to be sure the extent of the hidden damage is discovered. We have seen where potential buyers have requested from the seller to be allowed to remove drywall to explore potential damage, and the request was refused. If a seller refuses to allow a potential buyer to investigate the extent of discovered hidden damage, that is a red flag, and the potential buyers should strongly consider finding a new home.
The Real Estate Agent Knew About the Termite Damage
Hidden damage can also come to a new owner’s attention if a real estate agent involved in the sale and purchase of the home knew about it, but failed to disclose it. Maryland real estate agents have a fiduciary duty to their clients, which means they have to put their client’s interest ahead of their own.
Realtor’s duties also require that no matter what side of the transaction the real estate agent is on, whether representing the buyer or seller, they must disclose all material facts to both parties. In terms of termite activity and termite damage, both are material facts, meaning they have to be disclosed by real estate agent if they know about it.
Whitney, LLP has represented home buyers in termite lawsuits where agents knew about termite damage and termite activity, but inexplicably failed to disclose it to the buyers. Failure to disclose termite damage that a realtor knows about gives rise to multiple legal causes of action against them and their brokerage, including negligence, negligent misrepresentation, fraud, and fraudulent concealment.
Help with Home Termite Damage Legal Claims, Lawsuits and Litigation
“What do I do after finding hidden termite damage in my new house” is a common question that confused and upset new home buyers ask when they discover damaged wood in their home. Most clients who find Whitney, LLP’s termite damage attorneys online used a Google search when trying to find out how to handle their new problem of finding termites or termite damage in their houses.
Many of them did not realize that hidden termite damage in a home is a problem that Whitney, LLP’s attorneys can help with, and had no idea that our attorneys have successfully represented many homeowners in termite cases against sellers, inspection companies and real estate agents.
Finding a lawyer to help with recovering compensation for negligent WDI/termite inspections, help with termite damage in a new home, legal help for new home termite damage, along with trying to find out how to get the money to pay for a termite damage repair home contractor to fix hidden damage, are all issues that Whitney, LLP provides assistance with to our clients.
Free Lawyer Consultations in Termite Damage Claims
Whitney, LLP’s attorney provides free consultations in termite damage claims for home buyers.
To get started with your Free Consultation, call us at 410 583 8000, or use our Quick Contact Form on the website, and we will be in touch.