AUSTIN (KXAN) - With demand for housing in Austin many older neighborhoods are being revitalized.
Some remodeling is so dramatic a home can seem brand new. And that's what triggered a KXAN investigation of an East Austin townhouse complex where a woman claims she thought she bought a newly built home only to find out it was originally built more than 40 years ago.
"I thought -- you know what? -- this is a really smart investment in an area that's up and coming," said Lisa Losasso, who considers ownership of a new home part of the American Dream.
The seller's listing agent is The GoodLife Team. The multiple listing service or, MLS , clearly labels the home Losasso purchased at The Townhomes at Riverside Grove as "new construction," built in 2011 and "professionally designed with custom finishes to offer the highest quality." The "new construction" also included "Energy Star" appliances.
"The whole reason I bought this place was because it was new construction," said Losasso,
But despite what the MLS listing shows, records on file with the city of Austin and the Travis Central Appraisal District show the original construction date was more than 40 years ago.
"The original year of construction was 1970," said Paul Snyder, the district's deputy chief appraiser.
New construction, or a remodel?
- All building permits issued for work done on any property is public record and available through the city's building permit department. If it's a remodel, you can also get more information from the appraisal district, including whether the water lines and electrical work were re-done.
Building permits on file with the city of Austin from 2010 show the complex is an "interior remodel" to an existing multi-family residential Townhome," not "new construction."
The city's Commercial/Residential Building Department told KXAN the International Building Code defines an "alteration" or "remodel" as "any construction or recondition to existing structures, other than repair or addition" and defines "new construction" as the creation of a new building where one did not exist before."
Losasso filed a lawsuit against the Townhomes at Riverside Grove and the GoodLife Team alleging deceptive trade and statutory fraud.
KXAN asked GoodLife Team CFO, Gary Wise about the lawsuit and why Losasso's condo was listed as new construction. Wise said any response would have to come form his lawyer.
Snyder from the appraisal district said: "This is an apartment that has been converted to condos."
And because of that conversion back in 2010, Snyder said the appraisal office designated the site as a "change of use," essentially having the "same footprint, new floor plan." Snyder said the field appraiser assigned new property identification numbers from the builder's plans listing the property as new construction.
But Snyder also said that designation will soon change.
"In hindsight, based on the information you all have brought to us and our investigation and information from the taxpayer, we will be changing the actual year of construction back to 1970," said Snyder.
Leonard Guerrero, chairman of the Austin Board of Realtors, said he would not have listed the Riverside Grove as new construction.
"If it were my listing, no," said Guerrero, making clear he was speaking only for himself.
Losasso filed a lawsuit in Travis County District Court claiming deceptive trade practices and statutory fraud against the developer and owner of the property and The Good Life Team.
The GoodLife Team's lawyer sent us a letter stating "The GoodLife Team vehemently denies Ms. Losasso's claim and is confident a Travis County jury of its peers will agree..."
The GoodLife Team is also demanding proof and is asking for attorney fees and other costs related to defending the lawsuit.
The developer and property owner's attorney also sent us a letter denying Losasso's allegations. The attorney says Losasso's appraisal in her mortgage documents indicates the property was a rebuild and says the Riverside Grove website did as well.
The developer/owner of the Riverside Grove property would not talk to us on camera, but it appears he talked to the other residents at the Riverside Grove. More than a dozen of them contacted KXAN to tell us they knew their homes were a remodeled before they bought them and they're completely happy.
We checked and found 13 current MLS listings showing townhomes for sale at Riverside Grove as "new construction." Most show the approximate construction year as 2009. However one listing shows the construction year as 1970.
Update: As we were getting ready to air our Investigation, we got an email from Lisa Lossasso saying a settlement was offered. And then the attorney emails and calls started coming from the Riverside Grove, asking us to pull our Investigation and not air the story.
Losasso was suing for "deceptive trade practices" and "statutory fraud." The lawsuit will now be dismissed as a result of the settlement offered by the Riverside
Terms of the settlement are confidential, but we're told Lisa Losasso will be allowed to move out of her townhome immediately and her lawyer tells KXAN News she is satisfied with the settlement.
Late Thursday, we checked the MLS listings and found 13 of the units at the Riverside Grove still listed as new construction.
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