Buyer sues because the neighbor smokes?

A buyer in Boston is suing her real estate agent because after buying a condo, she found that the person who lives below her smokes. The agent says that she was never asked if there were smokers in the building. I am not a judge, and not attempting to decide this suit, but it will be an interesting one to watch. If the buyer specifically asked about secondhand smoke, I believe the agent should have done everything in his power to find out the true answer. However, it would be very difficult for the agent to be able to disclose everything that might bother the buyer. If the buyer never asked about cigarette smoke, how could the agent have known she was allergic?

My question is more focused on just what responsibility the buyer needs to take in doing their own due diligence, and how much it is the agent’s job to find out EVERYTHING about the property.

Do I need to disclose that a neighbor has a dog? If we see it out running around, I might point it out, but if he’s inside?? How could I know? If a dog is a deal breaker, let me know, and I will go ask the neighbor if they have a dog.

What about geese? If the neighborhood has a pond, should I remind the buyer that there may be geese on the property from time to time?

What about a garbage dump? If the house is near a garbage dump, prison, airport, railroad track, etc., is it my job to find that out and bring it to the attention of the buyer?

I do try to talk these things over with my buyers, and I always advise buyers to drive around the area to see what is nearby and what concerns they may have. I am not a psychic though, so if you have a concern, like a smoke allergy, just ask, and I would do my best to get an answer for you. If you feel strongly about something, it is important that you discuss it with your agent!

What are your thoughts on this case?

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6 thoughts on “Buyer sues because the neighbor smokes?

  1. Abby Dorsett says:

    Suing is a little extreme, but smoking regulations might need to be addressed in neighborhoods with really tight housing layouts a.k.a house after house after house with feet of room in between! No one wants to breathe cigarette smoke coming from the window next door!

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  2. Chris Garrison says:

    I think that if a buyer has a special something they want or do NOT want in a property, they should communicate that to the realtor. At that point, I feel it IS the realtor’s job to attempt to discover what they can about the property that might be a deal breaker.

    However, without that information, I don’t see how the realtor can know what any buyer might find objectionable. I personally wouldn’t like living so close to a smoker that the smoke comes in my window. Vegetarians might find the smell of grilling meat objectionable, so they might not want to live near me, either.

    On the flip side, when we were looking to buy a house, we let our realtor know we had to be near a bus line that went downtown, because at the time, my wife didn’t drive, and there were times when I’d have to travel for work. I think people are more likely to communicate this kind of requirement upfront, where a dealbreaker might seem obvious to the buyer but would be unknown to the realtor.

    A realtor might want to cover herself by having an interview with a potential buyer, asking them to list any deal breakers or absolute musts. If this is agreed on ahead of time, the buyer shouldn’t have any valid complaints after the fact. Realtors aren’t psychic or all knowing, after all.

    Just my opinion.

    Chris

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  3. Michelle Morris says:

    Great points, Chris!! Thank you for your post!

    Abby– I agree! Suing is a bit extreme, especially if the agent didn’t know. If she was asked though, she should have tried to find out.

    HMMMMmmmm, what if the agent asked but the neighbor lied and said they don’t smoke??

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  4. Kate says:

    I think that’s a little bit extreme to sue. However, I think it could be a major inconvenience for a non-smoker.

    I still think that realtors do everything possible to disclose all possible information.

    If it’s a condo, is this something that could be addressed with maintenance in the building?

    It will be interesting to see what the decision on this case will be.

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  5. Becky says:

    I don’t understand how it is a realtor’s responsibility to know if the neighbor below smoked. That was a totally different property. Now if the question was if the current occupant smoked (or had pets) — for allergy reasons — I would expect the realtor to disclose that. I get that it’s a condo and therefore has shared walls, but I don’t think this negates the fact that it is a separate property. Ugh, people are so litigious nowadays!

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