Q: I bought a home recently and found out that my seller had sold a portion of my land to the city for the city to lay water main lines.
Originally, the parcel was 0.60 of an acre. The seller sold off a tenth of an acre to the city. Then they sold the house to me with one-half an acre instead of 0.60.
How do I get justice on this? When I sell, I’ll only have a half-acre lot to sell instead of 0.60 acre. The value of the home will be lower. Shouldn’t the seller pass on the money they received to me?
A: As we read your question, the question in our mind is what exactly did you agree to buy? Did you agree to purchase a home on 0.60 of an acre or a half-acre? Did you pay a price commensurate with the larger lot size or a smaller lot size? Whether your seller sold the land to the city, once the water mains are installed and the landscaping is patched up, will anything be built on that land or will it seem like yours?
When buyers search for homes, they generally look for a certain type of home, with a certain number of bedrooms and bathrooms. In urban areas, people focus more on the home and less on the land on which the home sits. As long as a home fits certain parameters, the exact size of the land is usually not a big issue.
Yes, some buyers focus on the lot, but a buyer usually likes to see the home and lot and then weigh how he or she feels. Knowing the precise acreage is not often a concern. If you were buying a lot to build a home, the dimensions of the land would be critical to knowing how big of a house you can build. When you have an existing home, the issue of acreage becomes less relevant.
In your situation, we’d argue that you might be better with the smaller parcel. You will only pay real estate taxes on the half-acre but still benefit from the rest of the land. Presumably, the city purchased the land to place water pipes underground. In similar situations, the land will remain open and will appear to be part of your property if you don’t put up fencing.
Don’t get us wrong. We know land square footage and building square footage can be critical, but you haven’t given us information that would lead us to believe you were deceived or expecting to get more land than you got.
Normally, in real estate transactions, the contract states the size of the lot of land you are buying. In his practice, co-writer Samuel J. Tamkin usually sees residential contracts state the approximate area of land that is part of a deal. However, he has rarely seen a contract in which the exact square footage of the land being sold is a condition of the deal.
We think it’s likely that your contract didn’t contain any information on the square footage being sold to you or may have stated an approximation. When you closed, you may have been given a survey of the land you were buying. That survey should have included the square footage of the lot you purchased. It was at that time that you should have objected to the amount of land included in your purchase. We also know in some parts of the country, surveys are not required as part of the sale.
Sam believes surveys are important in almost all home purchases and, in particular, homes separated by small or large strips of land, homes surrounded by fences and homes that have other manmade improvements located close to the property lines. Without a survey, you might not know where your property lines are and what land around your home is yours.
Finally, you’re asking to be compensated for a loss that you may not have sustained. The home you purchased may have the same value with or without the strip of land sold to the city. Whether your contract did not contain a specific representation and obligation for the seller to convey a specific amount of land to you, you might be out of luck. You may want to talk to a real estate attorney to go over your documentation and determine if you have any right against the seller and what your next course of action should be.
Ilyce Glink is the author of “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask” (4th Edition). She is also the CEO of Best Money Moves, an app that employers provide to employees to measure and dial down financial stress. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact them through Glink’s website, ThinkGlink.com.