Saturday, February 23, 2013

Where we learn about “vicios ocultos”

Last time you heard from us, we had just signed the a deposit agreement buying a house in Sant Cugat. We thought we were getting a good deal, and had gotten an architect to check over the house to make sure that everything was ok.

Near the end of October, a rainstorm hit Sant Cugat and drenched us with a couple inches of rain. By pure luck, we happened have a visit scheduled for the next day to get an estimate for painter. The rainstorm had caused moisture crawled up the walls on the bottom floor and peeled off the paint (that had been put on to cover up the problems). We had originally been a bit suspicious because the floor had been replaced just before the sale, but the owner had said that it was due to the bathroom flooding.

We hadn’t planned on buying a fixer-upper (there were other cheaper ones that we could have bought if we wanted that), and the price we had offered didn’t take into account any major waterproofing efforts. In the Spanish civil code, there is the concept of “vicios ocultos” (hidden defects), where the seller is responsible for fixing any hidden problems that affect the habitability of the house for up to 6 months after the sale. If the seller was aware of the problem and didn’t tell the buyer, the seller can also owe damages (daños y perjuicios).

Theoretically, the buyer also has the option to reverse or back out of the sale. Unfortunately for us, our lawyer told us that this provision has been abused by buyers trying to getting out of deposit agreements, and if we tried it, we would almost certainly lose, and have to pay the legal costs of the sellers as well.

However, he did suggest another route: get an architect to design the most comprehensive (and thus expensive) solution to the problem and then see if the seller still want to pay for fixing the problem. If they are not willing to fix it, then we would have a case to demand our money back. If they want to go through with the sale, at worst we’d have more than enough money to pay to fix the problem.

We came back to the sellers with a comprehensive 60,000 euro humidity elimination solution. One day later, they gave us back our deposit check and we’re back to renting. In theory we could have asked for twice our deposit back, but we felt lucky just to escape more or less unscathed from the process. We found out later that they sold it to another person (sucker) that was willing to pay the same price.

Lessons learned:

  • Buy a house in the winter. Sant Cugat is very dry in the summer and very wet in the winter.
  • In the current market in many cases you don’t have to do a deposit agreement (the sellers are desperate).
  • Don’t assume that the Spanish civil code means what it says. In many cases jurisprudence has significantly altered the plain meaning.
  • If things end up going to court, everyone loses.

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