The Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of Ms. Mueller's claim, holding that the trial court erred in barring her from testifying on the value of her property. The Court of Appeals noted that it had previously held in D'Huyvetter v. A.O. Smith Harvestore Products that testimony from a farmer's wife that a silo was worth "nothing" was credible evidence that the silo's actual value was $0.00. This established "benefit-of-the-bargain" damages measured by the difference between the purchase price (the value of the silo as represented) and $0.00 (the actual value of the silo).
This issue comes up in residential real estate misrepresentation cases all the time. Granted, cost of repairs are usually our clients' best evidence of damages. If my client's basement leaks due to a hampered drain tile system, I usually seek the cost of a new drain tile system. If my client's roof leaks, I usually seek the cost of replacing the shingles. However, diminished value is the best measure of damages in a residential real estate misrepresentation case under some circumstances:
- When my client insists that numerous conditions were misrepresented and I do not want to bore the judge or jury with twenty different repair proposals;
- When I am concerned that the wrong judge or jury will reject the proposed repairs as extreme, such as moving the home or raising its foundation.
My only caveat is that residential real estate cases are not lemon law cases; your property is not worth "nothing." Even if your home is permanently plagued with toxic black mold and your doctor has urged you to move out immediately, the land still has value. In most circumstances, a homeowner can convincingly testify that he or she would have paid 10-20% less for their property had the seller fully disclosed the defects affecting it.