Q. After we settled on our house, we discovered a large crack in the basement wall. An engineer told us this is a serious structural problem and will cost a lot of money to correct. We talked to the real estate agent, who states that he did not know anything about the crack. Do we have an legal grounds on which to require the seller to fix up the crack?

A. Unfortunately, the law of Caveat Emptor - let the buyer beware - still prevails in the housing arena.

If your sellers knew about the crack, they might be obligated to make the rapeirs. But you probably would have to take the sellers to court, which is both costyl and extremely time-consuming. Additionally, it is a question of fact as to whether knew about the crack, and the burden will be on you to prove the seller's knowledge

Reread your contract and dicuss the situation with your lawyer. You may have some remedies.

i don't want to dound like a Monday morning quarterback, but there were some steps you should have taken before you enen signed the original contract to purchase.

First, don't rely on yourown inspection of the house. Even if you are an expert in housing construction, you may become too involved in the process of buying the house, and my not be able to see all the defects. Hire a qualified structural and mechanical engineer to inspect the house. Make the contract to purchase contingent upon a satisfactory report from that engineer.

Second, the contract should contain language whch states: "The purchaser shall have the right to a presettlement inspection." Then, just before settlement, make arrangements to have a complete walk through. At tins time, check the house very carefully, If you see problems, report them immediately to the seller (and the agent) You may want to escrow money to complete repairs, and it is advisable to work out the details prior to settlement.

Third, consider putting an arbitration caluse in your contract. Arbitration is faster and less expensive than litigation, and provides a setting less formal and less frightening than the couthouse.

Suggested language:

"In the event of any dispute involving this contract or the sales transaction, the parties to this contract agree to submit to binding arbitration under the rules of the American Arbitration Association.

Arbitration, in my opinion , is a logical alternative to the resolution of disputes , and should be used more often. And, you don't even need a lawyer, if you want to represent yourself.