The Buyer Is Cancelling The Purchase - His Cellphone Won't Work

Real Estate Broker/Owner with Intero Real Estate CA BRE #01191946

Los Altos Cellphone TowerThere has been a lot of controversy in the recent past about cell phone towers in Los Altos.  A vocal minority of people there, and in other places, don't want the towers because of appearance issues and concerns over radiation.  Unfortunately, without the towers our cellphones don't work.  All the promises of 3G or 4G data service on iPhones and Android phones are out the window without strong signals.  Which begs the question; do we need to disclose if cellphone service is poor?

I was at a house in Sunnyvale recently that had no 3G service inside the house (or outside for that matter).  Inside the home, the call quality was marginal and depended on where I stood.  This is especially frustrating because

  1. the home is in the middle of Silicon Valley - the poster child for modern technology
  2. the home is located in a flat area with no geographic obstructions

If I were a buyer for that home, I would have noticed the lack of cellphone service and made it a priority to determine if the issue was with my phone or the provider.

Could the lack of cellphone service become a condition for cancelling a contract?  Is it an aspect of the property condition in the eyes of the law?  For me personally, it would be a deal killer.  Never mind the fact that Silicon valley should have 4 bars in every single location, it's crazy that in any house in the flatlands there would be anything less than a strong signal.  I understand that the distribution of cell towers impacts signal coverage.  Fine.  Then we probably need legislation that mandates a minimum distribution so coverage, especially in major metro areas, is 100%.

If the buyer uses their cellphone in place of a landline, then the lack of signal could become a safety issue.  If they can't get a signal to dial 911, then what happens in an emergency?  Again, this is, in my opinion, an issue of property condition.  It may be a condition that impacts many properties nearby but it still impacts the property.  Does it impact value?  Probably not but it could make it less appealing to many buyers.  Again, neighbors taking issue with towers in their area need to be realistic about denying access to a sometimes necessary service.

There are laws in place mandating utilities (water, power, etc) but none in place to mandate phone or cellphone services.  Perhaps it's time to change that.  If not, then the time may come when disclosing a bad cellphone signal may be required.


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Tracy McPeek
Cottonwood, CA

Very interesting issue, If I wasn't tied to my cell phone for work I would be fine without one.  However, for many it would be "no cell, no sale."

Jan 28, 2011 06:30 AM #47
Rhonda Patterson
Waterfront and Preferred Homes, LLC - Hudson, FL

This is a new issue that I personally have not run across in selling a home. However, I have this very issue at my home and it is frustrating, to say the least. I'm sure a cartoonist seeing me trying to get reception in my home would have a field day with me in a comic strip.

A couple of folks have mentioned the cell booster, and Verizon is offering a booster for $250 but it attaches to your fios or internet connection (I don't know about any other company, as this is the company I use for all my services) and then to your router, I think. Does it work if the connection is down for some reason?

I asked the cellular rep at the Sam's Club about it the other day. He said that what I REALLY want is a cellular repeater. Businesses housed in metal buildings tend to have issues with cell service and they can use repeaters to solve the problem. The repeaters I have looked at online can be installed either on the outside of the house, or inside your attic if you get a decent enough signal there. The interior installation appears to be really simple, with the most important part of it all being able to determine where your strongest signal is found. Basically they give you a bracket for the receiver to sit in, and this bracket gets installed on an upright beam in the roof joists at least 3 feet away from metal (such as an air conditioning unit, metal siding, metal roof), you screw the cable into the base of the repeater and set the repeater upright in the bracket, and the length of cable gets run to the spot you want to have the receiver base located. Screw the other end of the cable into the receiver, plug the power supply in and go from there. For some of us, this is simple. For others, it may require a contractor to handle it. The repeaters come in varying square footage coverage "sizes" - 2,500 sq. ft., 5,000 sq. ft. - are two of the ones I have seen. They can be found for $350 and up, depending on what you buy.

For my money, I think this would be a better solution than a booster plugged into my internet service. Your neighbors, if they are close enough, will also thank you because they can benefit from your repeater as well.

Rhonda Patterson, Broker/Owner, Waterfront and Preferred Homes, LLC - Central Gulf Coast of Florida


Jan 28, 2011 06:58 AM #48
Carla Muss-Jacobs, RETIRED
RETIRED / State License is Inactive - Portland, OR

And to think it's in the heart of Silicone Valley -- that would be so deceiving.  I mean, it's not as if the property is out in the boon docks, and it's reasonable to assume there's no cell service.  Great post, and a modern day disclosure issue!  Tammy#25  has a good answer.  Hope you can find a solution.  I'm sure other neighbors in the area have figured something out.  Go to the house with the most teenagers -- I'm sure they have it worked out!  ;-)

Jan 28, 2011 07:08 AM #49
"Jayne" Focused on Finding the "Right" Home For You
Georgia Residential Realty, LLC - Smyrna, GA

Your post got me thinking and I wonder if we'll see a change in the coming years? We have seen contracts fall apart because people couldn't get access to DSL. We are a connected society. People want to be connected via the Internet. I think cell phone coverage as well as Internet access should be addressed.

Jan 28, 2011 07:38 AM #50
Jacquie Cliff
Champions Real Estate Services - Lynnwood, WA - Lynnwood, WA
- Real Estate and Short Sale Expert

If they put it in the contract as a condition, then it is fair game!  Reception around the Seattle area is generally good, but I can see people putting it into their contracts.  That and if the wireless internet signal is good.

Jan 28, 2011 07:39 AM #51
Erica Ramus
Erica Ramus - Ramus Realty Group - Pottsville, PA - Pottsville, PA
MRE, Schuylkill County PA Real Estate

Wow. That would just KILL some deals here in rural Pennsylvania!

Jan 28, 2011 08:11 AM #52
Karen Pannell
Real Living / Home Realty - Owensboro, KY
Owensboro KY Real Estate -270-903-2167 Homes, Cond

Bryan, wow!  This is all very thought provoking.  When I read the title of your post, I wondered what this was going to be about.  I think the lack of cell phone service is a material fact and should be disclosed.  I have not had a land line for over ten years now.  I think it will be a big deal for many buyers.  Thanks for the post and best wishes in Los Altos!

Jan 28, 2011 08:51 AM #53
Larry Costa
Century 21 Classic Gold, Carver MA - Carver, MA
Realtor, Carver MA Real Estate

Good point, one I've never heard.....under a buyers due diligience(ie Home inspection) I would agree this is grounds for a cancelation. I've had a cancel for no highspeed internet as their job depended on it. this is no different. As Realtors our jobs most defintely depend on good cell service in my opinion.

Jan 28, 2011 09:03 AM #54
Linda K. Mayer
License # 01767321 - La Verne, CA

Bryan, We actually have this problem in our own home.  It's really a pain in the heiney to lose a call and try to call them back on the home phone, only to have their phone be busy because they are trying to call you again.  It's simply frustrating.  I hope these things are something the buyer would think about themselves, but we can't rely on that.  So, in essence of being truthful with everyone, we as agents SHOULD disclose it.  It is an important aspect say for a doctor or lawyer, etc.

Jan 28, 2011 09:55 AM #56
Bill Rozek
Embrace Home Loans, Inc. - Potomac, MD
NMLS #214260

Interesting point.  Wouldn't you need a device to check each different cell provider's signal to provide any kind of meaningful disclosure?  Wouldn't checking something like this eventully fall into the realm of the home inspection as Larry suggested?

Jan 28, 2011 09:57 AM #57
Sandy Fenton
Keller Williams NY Realty * Licensed Associate Broker - Mount Kisco, NY
ABR, ASP, CDPE, GRI -Westchester NY - Condos to Luxury Homes

I have to aadmit that I've thought of this!  Living in Westchester county, NY, we have many areas that do not have good service.  It was horrible when my son would visit friends in those areas and then couldn't phone me from them.  I would tell him to use someone else's phone or the house phone if he had to.  Here, it depends on the service provider.  As Phil mentioned in post #17, it can be really, really bad.  Some people don't want the towers anywhere near them. 

However, I managed to hold off on renewing our ATT contracts until we finalized where he was going to college.  His first choice was waaaaayyyyy in upstate NY so it wasn't until we heard that he'd been admitted when we finally upgraded and got new phones/contracts.  ATT works great from up there in the boondocks!  :-)

Jan 28, 2011 10:26 AM #58
Andi Grant
310-508-4354 | - Los Angeles, CA
Helping 1st time buyers and home sellers in LA!

Great possible case law post! 

Jan 28, 2011 10:41 AM #59
Cory Barbee
San Diego, CA
Broker (760) 563-4022

Great post, the question needs to be one of the first raised when showing property, especially if the buyers is running their business out of their home...

Jan 28, 2011 11:18 AM #60
Sonsie Conroy
I serve buyers and sellers everywhere in San Luis Obispo County - San Luis Obispo, CA
Energetic, Enthusiastic, Knowledgeable Realtor

As long as landline telephones are available, as well as several alternative cell phone services plus various ways of boosting/improving the signal, I don't think the lack of accessible cell phone service in a particular home should be grounds for cancelling a contract...UNLESS it was part of the original deal.

That's not to say that cell reception isn't vitally important to most people. But there are so many alternative solutions to this problem (for most areas), it really isn't a life-or-death issue, IMO. If my dream home was perfect in all respects but I got lousy cell reception, I'd buy the house and figure out a way around the issue.

Jan 28, 2011 01:14 PM #61
Robert Savage
Bakersfield Property Solutions - Bakersfield, CA
Bakersfield Short Sales, Property Management, Cash

AT&T offers a "microcell" that acts like a cell tower and uses a high speed internet connection. Lack of cell service shouldn't be a deal killer.

Jan 28, 2011 01:53 PM #62
Christine Donovan
Donovan Blatt Realty - Costa Mesa, CA
Broker/Attorney 714-319-9751 DRE01267479 - Costa M

This would be a big issue to me as I don't have a landline, and I frequently choose to work from home rather than stay at the office all day.

Jan 28, 2011 01:54 PM #63
Rodney Mason
Angel Oak Home Loans - Atlanta, GA

I think it would make most people think twice about the home.  More people than ever now rely on their cell phone vs having an actual land line.

Jan 28, 2011 01:56 PM #64
Jason Crouch
Austin Texas Homes, LLC - Austin, TX
Broker - Austin Texas Real Estate (512-796-7653)

Bryan - Interesting points you raised here.  I haven't ever seen this kill a deal, but stranger things have happened.  Great food for thought.

Jan 28, 2011 02:54 PM #65
Barbara Altieri
RealtyQuest/Kinard Realty Group, Fairfield and New Haven County CT Real Estate - Shelton, CT
REALTOR-Fairfield County CT Homes/Condos For Sale

Bryan -- I never really gave this much thought but I will now.  I may have been unable to get signal at a house and just thought only about that call at that time.  Never thought about it being a permanent issue at that location.   For people who MUST have cell service for their business, this IS an issue.  Thanks for bringing this up. 

Jan 29, 2011 03:23 AM #66
Mark Wienshienk
MarkW Realty/ Agent for Keller Williams - League City, TX

I have service with TMobile and my daughter has Verizon. In this area I get overall better coverage then she does, except in one location I know about, her home. I can not receive or send calls from her home unless I'm standing in one location, literally I have to stand at the end of her sofa (left side only). If you look at the U.S. we are lagging far behind other nations not only for cell service but the speed available for computers. We need to wake up and make the carriers provide better service, not less service, then what other nations get. Why because without this we will be able to compete. Yes the expenditure would be high but it is necessary.

Jan 29, 2011 06:42 AM #67
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