Real Estate Matters: Homebuyers frustrated with inadequate attorney representation
Q: Our real estate attorney misread an estimate to remediate the underground storage tanks on the property we purchased. The sellers had started to remove and remediate some old underground oil storage tanks. The seller’s attorney and our attorney ended up recommending that we take a credit for the remediation estimate rather than have the seller finish the job.
We closed and then found out our attorney did not read the remediation estimate correctly. The attorney never sent us the estimate either. The estimate was for only one of the three areas that needed to be remediated and did not include the transportation charge for any contaminated soil.
Our attorney has taken no responsibility for his actions. The sellers refused to do anything because the estimate was accepted and the closing had occurred. We were never given a chance to review documents, lab results, etc., with our attorney. The attorney never warned us of the consequences associated with buying a property with contamination and our attorney never requested any money be put into escrow in case the remediation cost was inaccurate.
Our attorney specifically stated he would get documents relating to the remediation started by the sellers but never finished. Now we have a nightmare on our hands with remediation estimates up to $100,000. We have looked into hiring an attorney but have had no luck. We contacted five attorneys, and none of them would take on the case either because there was too little money involved or they don’t want to sue another attorney.
Our attorney’s position is that we accepted the seller’s estimate so there is nothing he can do. All of these issues could have been avoided if our attorney had kept us informed and had sent us the documents to review. What should we do?
A: What an expensive, unfortunate mess. From what you have described, it does not appear that you received the representation you deserved and, presumably, paid for. We are sorry you are in this situation. When it comes to environmental matters, Sam always advises his clients to not close on the property (commercial, industrial or residential) until the issue is resolved.
In some parts of the country, buyers typically hire a real estate attorney to represent them in the purchase of a home. That attorney will work for the buyer and has a duty to represent the buyer and advocate for the buyer. In states where a buyer hires an attorney to act as a settlement agent, the attorney does not have a duty of loyalty to the buyer. The buyer has to make sure that they understand what they are getting into before sending money to close or agreeing to close on a purchase of a home.
We believe that whether you live in a state where buyers typically hire attorneys to help close house deals or not, you should hire a real estate attorney if you have a serious environmental issue with the home you want to purchase.
What kind of environmental issue would give us pause? Lead paint, asbestos tiles or insulation, elevated levels of radon gas, and mold issues are the top environmental issues you’ll find in homes.
While environmental issues can be a cause for alarm, there are different degrees of harm: