We got our first inkling that the house wasn't going to be the turnkey operation we were expecting it to be during the home inspection. The inspector—a frustrated comedian hand-picked by our real estate agent, he spent most of his time cracking one-liners—detected a "slight" leak in the underground oil storage tank. My wife, ever the pessimist, worried this was a bad sign. I told her I would check with our experts, but I was sure it wasn't a big deal. A lifelong renter, I, of course, hadn't the slightest idea what I was talking about. I had no idea, for example, that the life span of an underground steel tank is 10 to 50 years, and that the one rusting beneath my future driveway was pushing 75. Or that the insurance industry has increasingly rewritten the fine print in its policies to exclude paying for just this kind of scenario. Or that on the list of issues that should give one pause about buying a house, deal-killers like failing septic tanks, termite-gnawed support beams, and nuclear cooling towers in the backyard, a leaking underground storage tank ranks right at the top. Nor did my "experts" see fit to enlighten me on these matters. To the contrary, our agent, our harried closing attorney, and the guy who answered the phone at the oil company all seemed to agree: It wasn't a big deal. The seller had an insurance policy on the tank, and the policy transferred with the deed to the house.

Three months after the closing, the remediation firm called with some, ahem, bad news. The oil had leached into the groundwater and encroached a few feet onto my neighbor's side of the property line. "Okay," I said. "So why don't you just clean it up?"

"Well, sir, as I'm sure as your attorney explained to you, both those conditions void our coverage."

Several phone calls and Xanax later, I had managed to convince myself that my crack advisers knew what they were talking about when they insisted that this, too, wasn't a big deal. "Right, yeah, well, this happens sometimes," I was assured with confidence. All I had to do now was have the previous owner submit a claim under her homeowner's insurance policy.
Ask TOH users about Home & Real Estate

Contribute to This Story Below