Dear Mr. Steiner:
 

Subject: Laguna Niguel home purchase

I need some helpful advice fast.  I'm in the process of moving
from the East Coast to California in 2 weeks. I have signed a
contract to buy a house in Laguna Niguel. Yesterday I received
the property disclosure report (from the Property I.D. Company). On page #6, the report says:

"LANDSLIDE INVENTORY REPORT  FOR:

289XX NIGUEL VISTA,
LAGUNA NIGUEL,
CALIFORNIA 92677

"Based on PROPERTY I.D.'s research of the current maps included in the Orange County Safety Element, the following determination is made:

"SUBJECT PROPERTY IS LOCATED IN AN OFFICIALLY DESIGNATED AREA OF MODERATELY HIGH POTENTIAL FOR BEDROCK LANDSLIDES UNDER NORMAL CONDITIONS.

"SUBJECT PROPERTY IS LOCATED IN AN OFFICIALLY DESIGNATED  AREA OF HIGH POTENTIAL FOR BEDROCK LANDSLIDES UNDER SEISMIC CONDITIONS."

It also says on the same page:

"Note: If property is located in a Seismic Hazard Zone or locally designated geological, seismic or other hazard zones, SELLER SHALL DISCLOSE IN WRITING TO BUYER THIS FACT AND ANY OTHER INFORMATION REQUIRED BY LAW. THE ABOVE
INFORMATION CONSTITUTES A MATERIAL FACT AND IN ACCORDANCE WITH REAL ESTATE DISCLOSURE LAWS, THIS INFORMATION SHOULD BE DISCLOSED TO THE BUYER BY THE AGENT FOR THE SELLER OF THE PROPERTY."

The report is dated March 22, 1998.  I just received the report on Friday, April 17, 1998.

My main questions are as follows:
1.)  Should I back out of the deal?
2.)  Can I legally do so without being sued?
3.)  Can I recover my escrow payment of $4,500.00?

My realtor stated that this report was just a formality and that all of California was classified this way.  That it just meant that sometime in the distant future the California bedrock was going to pull away from the rest of the United States.

Please give me some answers as soon as possible. You can reach me by e-mail (I check it evenings and during weekdays.) Or call me weekdays (508) 481-50XX; weekends (978) 562-58XX.
My wife, Pamela G., is staying in the Laguna Hills Comfort Inn until Tuesday (714) 859-0166.

Thanks so much for any helpful hints!

Sincerely,

Jurgen G.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Editor's Reply:  To answer your questions properly I would need to see all of the documents relating to this real estate transaction.  And, even then, I would suggest that you contact a reputable lawyer (damned hard to find!) and also a dis-interested geologist (certainly not the geological firm that was used to engineer the development!).

But, from what you have said, in my opinion, the answer to all 3 question would be an unequivocal "yes" -- and you should, of course, act in a timely fashion as noted in all California real estate contracts.

In regards to the strange comments made by your realtor, be assured that he will never put that statement in writing.  All he is trying to do is get his share of the fat 6% commission.  To him you are just a meal ticket.  If you made the wise decision and bailed out of this shaky deal, he gets nothing. 

While your prospective home is located a good half-mile from the landslides that have recently made the national evening news, the ground beneath both of these developments is the same.  The bedrock is composed of weak earth materials -- including a great variety of poorly consolidated Cenozoic marine sedimentary rocks containing abundant clay minerals, expansive soils, plus highly sheared and deformed Mesozoic Franciscan Complex rocks.  Add to this already dangerous mixture the 'approved' Orange County constructions activities; such as steepened slope angles, removed lateral support, added loads, back-filled earthen drainage plugs -- and the end result is a ticking landslide about to happen.

Because of the consistently weak bedrock formations and steep slopes found throughout the southland, the hills of Orange County have had a long history of catastrophic damage and deaths due to landslides. Under the extremely lax city and county real estate development codes, these areas have consistently experienced numerous landslides -- especially following periods of heavy rains or during our annual summer earthquakes (Though they -- the seismologists -- do say heat has nothing to do with seismic movements;  Still, summer does seem the time when we're ducking under our desks or hugging the closest doorways.).

While I am sure there are many excellent geological firms that are well informed about landslide-prone Orange County, the only firm I can recommend because of my actual contact with them and my knowledge of their company is:

Mr. Dennis Evans
Evans, Colbaugh & Associates, Inc.
2453 Impala Drive
Carlsbad, California 92008-7234
(760) 438-4646     fax (760) 438-4670

If Mr. Evans is busy, I am sure he will recommend another reputable geologist who is also familiar with the seismic hazards of south Orange County.
 

 

Landslide