back to article Couple sues estate agent who sold them her mum's snake-infested house

A US couple who bought a house in Maryland last December are suing their estate agent and the agent's mother for $2m, claiming she didn't tell them about their new home's terrible snake infestation. The Baltimore Sun reported that the smallest snakes found in Jeff and Jody Brooks' new Annapolis house were mere hatchlings, only …

  1. PJF

    US Home inspection..

    If they weren't too cheap to have a home inspection, and walk away, they could've saved a half-million bucks.

    1st house I bought, the inspector saved me/use ovver $50k in asbestos abetments, and structural deficiencies. Bought the house at a $75k "discount", and the original owners made the house "clean"

    The second inspection, with the same company, and the same inspector, gave it a "good" bill of health - it was a 100 y/o wooden structure house less than an 1/8 mile from the Atlantic.

    My second home, we went over it with a tic(very fine) comb, and came out ahead.. again withe the same company, but a different and diligent inspector.

    PAY for a home inspection - $$ now = less headaches/hassle in the future!

    As I recall, it was about $200, in the 00'. It may be closer $400 now, but cheaper than a half-mil later...

    1. Graham Marsden
      Thumb Down

      Re: US Home inspection..

      So an Estate Agent knows of a serious defect in a property they're selling, but goes ahead with selling it because, well, Caveat Emptor...

      No wonder they keep appearing on the lists of "Most hated professions".

    2. bjr

      Re: US Home inspection..

      They must of had a home inspection, you can't get a mortgage without one. The home inspector didn't notice the snakes because he wasn't looking for them.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: US Home inspection..

        Ah.. different states, different rules on the inspection... gotta' love it. However, the seller usually has to sign off that there are "no known defects or issues" as such. This usually includes things like mold, rot, bad systems, varmit infestations, etc. If they sign off, and it's later determined that they lied, they can be held liable for civil action. In this case, the inspector should also be pulled into the lawsuit as those are the kinds of things they're supposed to look for in most states.

        1. Tom 13

          @Mark 85

          The house is in the People's Republic of Maryland. If money didn't change hands, the inspector is a close friend of the realtor. People here at work have been talking about the house. It's within easy commuting distance.

  2. Anonymous Coward

    Inspections dont work in the UK

    I had THREE different structural surveys done of my current house.

    Not one of them picked up on the asbestos tiled roof, or the rampant woodworm.

    Of course, weasel wording of the T&Cs for all UK surveyors absolve them of any mistakes or omissions.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Inspections dont work in the UK

      Seconded. In UK the inspectors are part of the same real estate mob. If you get a "clean bill of health" from a UK inspection you might as well don an overall and get into the roofspace yourself to see if the guy really did his job. Personally - I doubt it.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Inspections dont work in the UK

        You mean the one like I had "The Windows seem sound, but would recommend a window installer to inspect" Repeat with roof, guttering, plumbing, heating and ground works. Throw in , "unable to inspect loft as not boarded" as well as couldn't check xyz due to furniture and you wonder what the bloody hell you forked out several hundred pounds for.

        1. Matt_payne666

          Re: Inspections dont work in the UK

          house buying is a laugh...

          Lost all faith - loft not inspected as not boarded...

          the homebuyers survey on ours last month was - unable to inspect loft as boarded

          sue the estate agent? they are all slimy bastards... every bit of paper I have signed places the responsibility of anything squarely on the buyers surprised the americans arnt the same.

      2. Martin 47

        Re: Inspections dont work in the UK

        Some of us in the UK realized that a while ago and employ a proper structural engineer, the cost is not much more than a bog standard 'survey'

        1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

          Re: Inspections dont work in the UK

          Some of us in the UK realized that a while ago and employ a proper structural engineer, the cost is not much more than a bog standard 'survey'

          Exactly. I found local surveyors that would deal directly and produce a "limited" guarantee report starting around £800. The "limited" side came from them stating that they would not damage the property while performing the checks but would check everything they could otherwise and clearly state any concerns that they might have if they couldn't check things but had concerns.

          Sending somebody into a house you don't own to knock holes in it isn't the most welcome approach. But a good survey will pick up things that while not serious are useful to know anyway, such as misfitting or broken back boxes for electrical sockets. Not a big deal, I could replace those myself with little effort but the kind of thing that's useful to know in advance before you let little children loose.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Inspections dont work in the UK

          "Some of us in the UK realized that a while ago and employ a proper structural engineer, the cost is not much more than a bog standard 'survey'"


          Someone I know had a "Building society survey" which concluded the house needed tens of thousands of work on the roof, and basically was about to keel over. The Building Society refused the loan. He suspected that the "surveyor" was in cahoots with someone who was trying to scrape together the asking price, as the house was a bit of a bargain.

          A structural engineer reported that the building was sound and the roof needed about £600 of work done on securing some of the timbers. All the rest was minor work.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Inspections dont work in the UK

        In the UK people have massively unrealistic expectations about what their survey can uncover. Most surveys of standard construction houses are just external valuations; nothing is removed to see what lies underneath, for example. Even when people claim to have had a structural survey, they rarely mean a proper one, rather a more detailed valuation and report. A full structural survey can be done, but it's very expensive, not only for the surveyor's fee but also for rectifying the damage caused lifting floorboards, making holes in walls, etc. In practice hardly anybody has an in-depth structural survey done, and even then only on the highest risk properties.

    2. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      Re: Inspections dont work in the UK

      These homebuyer surveys are utterly useless, the "it's not our fault regardless" disclaimers aside.

      When I sold my last house the inspector came up with all kinds of crap for the potential buyer such as "inadequate underfloor ventilation" for a solid floor or "signs of woodworm" where the timbers were around 300 years old and had been pickled in all manner of chemicals on a few recent-ish occasions. When 300 years old, most wood will have some form of "sign of woodworm".

      The real gem was the "energy efficiency" savings section of the report that couldn't find any sign of cavity wall insulation for a single brick rendered wall or that replacing the light bulbs with "energy saving" bulbs would save energy where if the inspector knew anything he'd have spotted that there was just a single incandescent bulb on an external security light and every other light in the house was LED.

      Luckily the buyer had the sense to run his concerns past me and he personally came and looked at things as well. No 200 year old cottage is going to be perfect or meet the latest new house build standards but that was what they were testing things against.

      1. Dabooka Silver badge

        Re: Inspections dont work in the UK


        I went barmy with the inspector and he actually came out and did another one with me present; same sort of issues as you, lightbulbs (one full fta bulb on the stairs to the cellar, all others energy efficient or LED), no insulation (stone built and rendered). Unble to check loft as there isn't one, just the apex boarded and insulated as the entire 3rd floor is the 'loft'. Windows; newly fitted double glazed wood frames but slated for not being uPVC (when we couldn't fit them anyway even if we wanted). Unable to check boiler as in the cellar, which is full height, runs the length fo the house with lighting, electrics, natural light and houses the washer and dryer.

        The funniest was watching my missus tear him apart on each of these points after his feable excuse. He stood there with a clipboard and hi vis vest on lokoing a right chump

        1. BongoJoe

          Re: Inspections dont work in the UK

          This is what riles about the UK.

          Since when have uPVC door and window frames been superior to oak?

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

            1. BongoJoe

              Re: Inspections dont work in the UK

              There is a house in the next village clearly designed by an architect who has embraced all things uPVC.

              Not only the doors and windows made from the dreadful stuff but they've put a porch on the front with hideous uPVC columns supporting the whole ghastly affair.

              This being North Wales it gathered the nick-name of "Ty Plastic" (Plastic House) when it was built about twenty years ago and today not only does it have the same nick-name but it's also a point of reference to any traveller in a series of directions.

          2. Kubla Cant Silver badge

            Re: Inspections dont work in the UK

            Since when have uPVC door and window frames been superior to oak?

            Precisely. And not just oak. The softwood sash windows in my house are between 200 and 250 years old. They've obviously had some repair and maintenance during that time, but they're basically original.

            I wouldn't want to ruin my house with chavvy uPVC windows, and I'm not allowed to anyway. But I find it's an amusing gambit to say to the salesmen "My wooden windows are 200 years old. How long will you guarantee your plastic ones for?"

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Inspections dont work in the UK

              "I wouldn't want to ruin my house with chavvy uPVC windows"

              Well, I may be a chav (apologise for existing, will try not to touch anything on the way out) but I've been through the whole old house thing, along with the ancient sash windows that couldn't be replaced with modern stuff - though if yours are 200-250 years old, they either aren't made of the sort of softwoods used in modern construction or the climate is unusual. Douglas fir?

              But nowadays I've stopped regarding a house as a status symbol and an appreciating asset. I have to live somewhere, and my descendants aren't that short of money. I've decided to go for comfort, energy efficiency and low maintenance, knowing that when I or somebody comes to sell, the agent won't have any problems.

              You may disagree, but view is surely just as valid as yours. If you call me a chav (as you have), I could equally call you a snob. But, strangely, I decided to go down the uPVC route after a discussion with a professional ecologist - who makes the argument that overall when all environmental costs are considered, thermal efficiency and ongoing maintenance trumps apparently more benign materials.

              1. Squander Two

                Old houses

                > I've been through the whole old house thing ... I've decided to go for comfort, energy efficiency and low maintenance

                And right angles. And enough electric sockets. And no hidden bits containing ten decades of previous owners' DIY clusterfucks.

          3. Andy A Bronze badge

            Re: Inspections dont work in the UK

            Since when have uPVC door and window frames been superior to oak?

            Since the sales droids (only slightly higher in the public regard than estate agents) saw that there was money to be made.

            A few years ago a pushy type tried to get me to sign up for his "burglar-proof" uPVC offering. I pulled out the gas-powered soldering pen I had recently been using, fitted the hot-knife bit, and showed him the error of his ways by silently hacking up his sample. It had the added benefit of stopping him annoying anyone else for the rest of the day.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Inspections dont work in the UK

      I had 3 valuations done, mostly for insurance, when we inherited this house from my mother. One of them commented on an Artex ceiling, clearly not having seen the lines running across it every 2' or realised that they were the joins between the textured wall-paper. He also commented on the polystyrene tiles in the porch; clearly he hadn't come across the high quality mineral fibre tiles before. (No, mineral != asbestos. I know where the asbestos is, it's in the soffits sealed by plenty layers of paint & I'm not going to disturb it.)

      One of them gave conspicuously lower valuations then the others. I'm sure they'd have been delighted to have put it on the market for me. I think it would have been sold very quickly & reappeared at a higher price but with half the garden separated off as a building plot. But back in those days estate agents occupied the place in public esteem now held by bankers.

    4. Squander Two

      Re: Inspections dont work in the UK

      Our surveyor valued the house at asking price minus £x. We negotiated with the vendor and got the asking price down by £y. The bank then phoned the surveyor, who promptly issued a new valuation of asking price minus £x minus £y. £x was clearly the amount of extra cash the bank had told the surveyor they wanted to get out of us, and he was going to value based on that, not on, you know, the actual fucking house.

      Switched to a different bank and asked them not to use that surveyor.

      Independent, my arse.

      1. James Hughes 1

        Re: Inspections dont work in the UK

        I eventually got some money out of the surveyor who did my house, and failed to notice that the oil storage tank leaked like a sieve - i.e. you could actually see the drops coming out. How the previous owners hadn't noticed it is weird. Well, not really.

        I did threaten them with all sorts though as they kept denying any responsibility.

    5. Dr Dan Holdsworth

      Re: Inspections dont work in the UK

      That is very much my experience as well. The inspection I paid for burbled incoherently about damp on one wall which subsequently turned out to be a false alarm. The inspector obviously didn't do simple checks like look in the airing cupboard, or else the previous owner's feckless bungled soldering (leaving large burns on the woodwork) would have revealed a badly damaged central heating system.

      Similarly a look at the exterior doors would have revealed the hand of the bungling DIY muppet at work (it it doesn't fit, remove parts of the locking mechanism and bodge it!).

      A final look at the legal ownership would have revealed that whilst the house was leasehold under one owner, the garden was also leasehold but under a different lease. Both paid off so no rent to pay, but technically I cannot prove ownership of my garden.

      All in all, money wasted.

    6. DiViDeD Silver badge

      Re: Inspections dont work in the UK

      Myl inspector, for an old Garden Village house in Rhiwbina, Cardiff, assured me that there was strong evidence of wall tie failure in the SOLID exterior walls!

      For the uninitiated (as I was back then), wall ties are used to hold the 2 parts of a cavity wall together, apparently.

      He also suggested cavity insulation. I should have told him to go ahead and try.

      Eventually went with the full structural which, among other things, pointed out the rampant damp and dirt floor under the carpet tiles the other bloke had missed in his rush to warn me about the 'wall ties.'

    7. Dave 15 Silver badge

      Re: Inspections dont work in the UK

      Yup, had the same, never bother with the untrustworthy leaches myself... frankly also avoid estate agents (the yankee ones are overly expensive anyway). Do it your self. You can also save a pack on the lawyers as well... used one once who charged me stacks for drawing up the contracts, when the vendor broke the contract and took hundreds of pounds of fixtures and fittings the contract clearly said were to stay... the answer... well you could sue but you are unlikely to get my fees covered or all the money back... so the contract was fit only for toilet paper,

    8. Sykobee

      Re: Inspections dont work in the UK

      Same here - didn't pick up damp in a couple of walls and old loose plaster elsewhere.

      That led to needing to install a new porch, getting a lot of replastering done, and a new bathroom, amongst other things.

      It's not like these surveys are cheap either. At least tap the walls in areas you should know to tap as a professional.

  3. Mage Silver badge


    My tame Architect pointed out

    1) No water supply and no prospect of one. The owner had filled a tank.

    2) The top floor built recently on the old house out of cavity blocks and needed dry lined.

    We bought a different house.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My God:

    Most of the snakes the Brookses have found have been black rat snakes, which can live for up to 25 years and grow to seven feet long, but are not poisonous.


    Venenomous you cretins... Christ on an AT-AT.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: My God:

      There's nothing wrong with the statement that they are not poisonous....

      They just happen to be not venomous either.

      1. theblackhand

        Re: My God:

        The snakes are also NOT riding on the backs of laser-equipped sharks OR taking drugs and driving dangerously.

      2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: My God:

        Not poisonous = perfectly good to eat...

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: My God:

        Yeah, I realised afterwards.

        Enjoy a +1 from me.

        But you understood my meaning...

  5. Danny 14 Silver badge

    Seems correct to me. Black rat snakes are not poisonous (whereas a keelback snake would be) they are also not venomous (as in an inland taipan) although the article didn't state this.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "but are not poisonous."

    I think you mean venomous.

  7. jake Silver badge

    "Broseker is Van Horn's mother"?

    And not a thank-you? Black rat snakes are good eats, and not dangerous!

    1. sabroni Silver badge

      Re: Black rat snakes are good eats

      Classic jake!! (Though I'm surprised they don't give excellent milk!)

      Fuck it, I'm in a good mood. Have an upvote!!!

      1. jake Silver badge

        @sabroni (was: Re: Black rat snakes are good eats)

        Don't be silly, sabroni. We only milk VENOMOUS snakes. Rattlers around here ... Before sending the critters that wind up in the barns[0], and anywhere else that children are likely to explore, we milk them for their venom[1]. Then we drop a drop of pink nail polish on their heads, and send them into exile on the back road (over half a mile away from the public area) to feast on ground squirrels. They get one chance per molt ... pink dots in habitated areas == rattler tacos. Tasty :-)

        [0] Our feral cats don't need any help keeping the rodents suppressed, ta you very much.

        [1] Sent to various labs working on (anti)venom research (Stanford, Berkeley, Davis, et alia).

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Broseker is Van Horn's mother"?

      OK, they could just have sued for the cost of a mongoose or two.

      1. Nolveys

        Re: "Broseker is Van Horn's mother"?

        I see a problem with your plan, seeing as the snakes were introduced in order to get rid of the rats.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: "Broseker is Van Horn's mother"?

          Not a problem? What eats mongooses? Or is that mongeese? Eventually we'll get up to a pest so large, that you can simply build a fence to control it. Or keep it as a pet, or just eat it...

          1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

            Re: "Broseker is Van Horn's mother"?

            I know an old woman who swallowed a horse. She's dead of course...

          2. Dave 15 Silver badge

            Re: "Broseker is Van Horn's mother"?

            I knew an old woman who swallowed a fly........

            oops sorry everyone, just seen I was beaten to it :( can't 'see a delete button though :(

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "Broseker is Van Horn's mother"?

          Actually (and looking at the discussion above over poisonous versus venemous) mongooses eat rodents but kill snakes. That's why they are so useful in India.

          However, I discover the problem with my modest proposal is that the import of most mongoose species is forbidden in the United States basically because, when it comes to killing rodents, they are too good at it.

  8. returnmyjedi

    At least there weren't any lizards. (Bit NSFW due to swears).

  9. wyatt

    Purchasing my first house was an eye opener. Survey was a complete waste of time, Now however I have a pretty good idea of what I'm looking for in each room having had to rectify so many issues..!

  10. Nolveys
    IT Angle

    It came to pass that the Brooks were given a full refund and went on to purchase a lovely bungalow.

    And then came the wolves.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Personally I'd be more worried by the Villa...

    2. craigb

      and then the fire nation attacked

  11. John Tserkezis

    Odd, I'd normally say it's the real estate agents themselves that are the snakes.

    1. Joe User

      Odd, I'd normally say it's the real estate agents themselves that are the snakes.

      Now, is that a nice thing to compare snakes to?

  12. Dr Dan Holdsworth

    If there are so many snakes, what are they eating?

    Black snakes are predators and eat vermin, mice and rats mostly. If the house was infested then there must have been a more than adequate food supply; this means that the area had to have had a sizeable rodent population.

    Eliminating the snakes would still leave you with a rodent problem, and a bigger one than you had before. A most sensible buyer would look at this, and see if the rodent problem couldn't be sorted out somehow. Remove what the snakes are eating, and they'll go elsewhere or starve.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: If there are so many snakes, what are they eating?

      > Remove what the snakes are eating, and they'll go elsewhere or starve.

      Or decide to change their diet and go for something more hominid, like.

      1. Swarthy Silver badge

        Re: If there are so many snakes, what are they eating?

        Or decide to change their diet and go for something more hominid - like the infant child.

    2. Tom 13

      Re: If there are so many snakes, what are they eating?

      We're talking The People's Republic of Maryland here. Up Baltimore way they have annual rat catching contest where they try to catch rodents from alleyways using fishing poles and casting lines with peanut butter on the hooks. What's scary isn't that they do it, it's the size of the rodents they catch that way.

  13. Dick Pountain

    Charge them extra for the snakes - good for keeping away pedants

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Here in Africa we have poisonous and venomous snakes at the same time. And scorpions in the bath. We scoff at your asbestos roofs and rising damp...

    1. Graham Marsden

      I'm sensing...

      ... an African version of the Four Yorkshiremen sketch...

      ... Luxury!

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: I'm sensing...

        No, but the Ozzies will be along to point out that they have wildlife that'll kill you just by looking at you.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I'm sensing...

          ... shhh. dont mention the Drop-Bears.

          1. Pedigree-Pete

            Re: I'm sensing...

            Have a +1 for that link. Good backing track too.

            Icon, it's Friday (here).

  15. Jim 59

    Snakes remedy

    Just make sure you have enough ladders around the house.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    instread of suing, they should just call Samuel L. Jackson.

  17. Simon Harris
    IT Angle

    How did they get in?

    Through an open SSSSSSSSSSSSSH port.

  18. kain preacher

    When I bought my house I was fortunate that father is a carpenter and my brother is electrician. The both caught stuff the inspector missed. My brother being sparky also told them this is what going to cost to bring the wiring up to code. It took to months but the bank caved when brother called in the city inspector.

    being relator to people are in the trades is great.

  19. Ed_UK

    Who ya gonna call? St. Patrick!

    As St. Paddy said to the snakes as he drove them out of Ireland:

    "Are you guys ok in the back there?"

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