• Military family out thousands, says home inspector missed important detail

    By: Ben Becker , Action News Jax

    Updated:

    Buying a home is the biggest and most important purchase you will ever make and you hire professionals such as home inspectors to protect your investment.

    One local military dad says he did everything right, but he's still out more than $12,000.

    Matt Montgomery and his family made a military move to Jacksonville from California more than three years ago and thought they found the perfect home.


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    But what Montgomery didn't know is that his home had a dirty little secret.

    “They eventually took apart the toilet and put a camera in and said you guys have a septic tank,” according to Montgomery. 

    The septic tank had failed, causing a huge mess and ruining his lawn and sprinkler system. 

    “Do you feel ripped off?” asked Action News Jax investigator Ben Becker. “I do,” said Montgomery.

    Montgomery's paperwork from when he bought the home includes a sellers property disclosure form in which the box for public sewer is checked.  

    In addition, "x" marks the box for public sanitary sewer as the appraisal as well as onthe inspection report. 

    Three documents, none of them accurate. 

    Becker called Montgomery's inspector and asked him about an email he sent to Montgomery saying, "Commonly I rely upon the information provided unless there is some obvious site condition that would suggest something different."    

    The inspector told Becker he complied with all state statutes. 

    On the next to last page of the inspection it says "home inspectors are not required to report on… any component or system that was not observed."

    Becker met with Wally Conway, who has inspected homes in Jacksonville for 30 years.

    Conway says although the home didn't have signs of a septic tank as it does now, there are hints in the neighborhood -- such as elevated mounds -- that could have led an inspector to question if the homeowner disclosure was correct.

    "I see over here,” said Conway as he pointed to an elevated spot in a neighbor’s yard.

    “Usually a pump,” added Conway.

    Florida lawmakers were considering requiring property owners to include a written disclosure when selling a property with septic tanks, but that line was stripped from the bill.

    But what about the sellers disclosure for the Montgomery's home that said no septic tanks?  

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    Real estate attorney Barry Ansbacher says that disclosure is voluntary, and just as with the sellers contract, both have weak enforcement provisions. 

    So even though you have the legal right to sue, it may not be worth it.

    “The legal process can be very expensive for a civil lawsuit,” Ansbacher said. “You may spend more pursuing a dollar than what you recover."

    As for Montgomery, he and his family are moving and the sting of this expensive lesson in homeownership will linger.

    "Now we have a good quality tank the next homeowner will not have to deal with it,” Montgomery said. “And it will be on the disclosure?” asked Becker.

    “It will say we have a septic tank,” Montgomery said with a smile.

    There are approximately 65,000 septic tanks in Jacksonville, and the best and easiest way to know if a home is on septic is to call JEA.

    In addition, Ansbacher adds you should have a provision in the contract that the seller has to pay your attorney’s fees if you prove the seller did not disclose something that cost you big bucks to fix.

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