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What to Do about an Eyesore Development Going in Next Door

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By Lew Sichelman

RISMEDIA, September 11, 2007- (MarketWatch)-Question: I am in a bit of a bad situation here. We bought our property just over two years ago and now the electric company is building an eyesore across the street from us. I believe it will have a huge impact on our house and land value. We have six acres of farmland in a very prime location.

I knew the electric company had an easement across our property, but I did not know what the utility’s plans were. Apparently these plans have been known and been public record for five years now. I was not aware of this, and would not have even known to look into something like that. That is why we hired a real estate agent…to look out for our best interests and help to protect our investment in our property. Nothing was disclosed on the paperwork, and my agent never said anything about this either.

Without turning this into a novel, I will just say that I am very, very distraught by what has happened and I don’t know what to do. Shouldn’t the agent be held liable for this since we were never informed of this and apparently this was public knowledge? Any help is appreciated! Amy Brand.

Answer: Sorry to say, but unless you hired an agent to represent you and you alone in the transaction—a so-called buyer’s broker—you are out of luck. If you used an agent in the traditional sense—that is, the agent who listed the house for sale or one who was simply taking you around to view various properties but had no exclusivity with you—he (or she) was working for the seller and had no duty to disclose anything to you that would harm his client.

Even if it seemed like the agent was on your side, he wasn’t. Many buyers are surprised to learn that even though they spent many hours in the car with “their” agent and had become close confidants, if not outright friends, the agent actually worked as a subagent to the agent who listed the house that the buyer eventually bought. As a subagent, the agent owes his allegiance to the seller, not the buyer.

But even if you were using a buyer’s broker, I am not sure he had a duty to find out what was being planned for adjacent properties unless you specifically instructed him to do so. This is typically part of the buyer’s due diligence.

Let this stand as fair warning to anyone who is buying property, especially if it is not in a traditional subdivision or backs up to woods, a vacant parcel or anything else that could be developed or redeveloped: It is incumbent upon you to determine to the best of your ability what the owner of the adjacent property has in mind.

As you found out the hard way, it is well-worth your time to take a day off and visit with your local zoning officials to find out if any plans have been filed with regard to the property next door. Or how that property is zoned, which will tell you what can and cannot be built on it.

Realize, too, that even if the property is slated for, say, large single-family lots, there is nothing to stop the owner or subsequent owners from trying to rezone the ground for something more dense like houses on quarter-acre lots, apartments or an office building. Nothing, that is, but a lot of hard work on your part in trying to stop the proposed change from taking place.

Nationally syndicated columnist Lew Sichelman has been covering the housing market for 35 years. Because of the volume of mail he receives, he cannot answer individual questions, nor can all questions be answered in this space. E-mail lsichelman@aol.com.

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