Warning for homebuyers: Secrets sellers may not disclose - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Warning for homebuyers: Secrets sellers may not disclose

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ATLANTA (CBS ATLANTA) -

Have you bought a home, or are you thinking about buying a home? CBS Atlanta News is investigating the secrets sellers may not tell you that could cost you tens of thousands of dollars, or even make your new home unlivable.

We have one family's warning and what potential homebuyers need to look for so it doesn't happen to them.

Brian and Michelle Bohlen thought they had found the perfect house in Atlanta to raise their kids. The quirks that came with buying an older home, they planned to patch up with tender, loving care.

"Everything looked fine," Michelle Bohlen said.

"Was there anything in the disclosure that gave you reason to believe there was a problem?" reporter Wendy Saltzman asked.

"No, the opposite," she said.

The Bohlen's bought what they thought was their dream home, but soon learned the tilted floors, which they were told were just part of and old house settling, were actually signs of a much more disturbing problem. They hired a contractor to raise the tilted floors, and he quickly discovered a secret the Bohlen's had never been warned about.

"He breaks the concrete and there is absolutely nothing underneath it for about a foot, foot and a half, and 5 feet wide and 20 or so feet long, just nothing," Brian Bohlen said.

"By the time I walked in, there was this canyon running thought our basement. I couldn't believe it. How could you have a house sitting on nothing?" Michelle Bohlen said.

Then the Bohlens learned what was causing what looked like a sinkhole underneath their house.

"A pipe had been buried about 6 feet down, and water had for years just been going underneath the foundation, through this gully, and all the soil had just been carried down into the pipe," Brian Bohlen said.

The previous owners never gave the Bohlen's a report they paid for in 2005. The report showed a pipe, hidden beneath the foundation, was rusted out and had holes in it and debris running through it.

"We never saw it, never heard about it, never knew," Brian Bohlen said.

As it turns out, the debris running through that pipe was the soil that was supposed to hold up the structure of the home.

"Worse case scenario is that the foundation could fail, and the slab could have if it were not caught in time, it could have fallen out completely, allowing the foundation walls and the slab itself to just sink," said Maureen Davis, a structural engineer with Haight Davis.

Davis surveyed the home once the problem was uncovered and said the foundation is unstable.

"This is a problem that I believe was identified in 2005 to the previous homeowners, and it definitely is, in my opinion, something that should have been disclosed," Davis said.

But the seller's disclosure and a survey of the house never made mention of any problems or of a hidden pipe beneath the home. And neither did the realtors, who had received a copy of the 2005 report.

"What they gave us was a statement from a structural engineer saying the house is fine," Brian Bohlen said.

To explain the slanted floors, the realtors and prior owner hired this structural engineer, Bob Clien, to inspect the home.

When Saltzman found Clien at his home, she asked him why the Bohlens didn't know about the structural issue, but he wouldn't talk.

"I would suggest that you talk with my attorney," Clien said.

Clien's report was provided to potential buyers alongside the inaccurate disclosure form, saying the slanted floors were the result of normal displacements that come with age.

"How is it structurally sound, though, if a house is sitting on basically nothing?" Saltzman asked.

"I'm sorry, I cannot comment. And I will not comment," Clien replied.

CBS Atlanta News also tried to track down the realtors, Carol and Catherine Young. Both said in an email they had been advised by their attorney not to talk.

The Bohlens were left with a problem they don't yet know the size of, but the cost to repair it could be more than $100,000.

"I am a teacher. I can work for three years, and every cent that I bring home could go towards that, and it wouldn't be enough money," Michelle Bohlen said.

The Bohlens are now suing Harry Norman realtors, Bob Clien and the former owners. 

CBS Atlanta News tried to track down those owners, but they would not return any calls.

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