Lies You Can’t Tell When Selling Your Home & the Value of Transparency
Selling your house can be a stressful, anxiety filled, uncertain experience, but it does not have to be that way. You want potential buyers to see your home at its best, so you might wonder whether you really need to disclose every little thing that’s wrong with it. Here is the truth: Transparency and disclosure will make you look like an honest Seller. Being proactive with repairs is a key to having a smooth real estate transaction.
Below is a copy of disclosure form which almost always has the “Do Not Know” box checked on it. Buyers will wonder how can you possibly live in a house for years and not know if your foundation leaks, roof leaks, have plumbing problems, etc.?
The fact is Sellers know about the condition of their house, but they check the “Don’t Not Know” box because they either don’t want to disclose an issue or they do not want to say “Not Defective” and open themselves up for liability. There is a better way to sell houses and be legally protected and it starts with a Pre-Listing Home Inspection.
Some Real Estate Agents instruct Sellers not to do a Pre-Listing Home Inspection so the Seller can have plausible deniability about the condition of the house. This is the worst advice a Real Estate Agent can possibly give a Seller because deficiencies are going to be found by a Buyers inspection and that will cause a lot of problems late in the real estate transaction. If a Real Estate Agent gives you this advice, then you need to find a Real Estate Agent who believes in honest and transparent real estate transactions. You need to find a Real Estate Agent who is innovative, forward thinking, and wants to help you maximize the equity in your house vs being blindsided repairing defects which were found by the Buyers last minute home inspection.
The fact is, some material defects MUST be disclosed by law, and if you don’t give full disclosure and deficiencies are discovered during an inspection, then you could lose your buyer because they may think you were not being honest. Even if a deficiency doesn’t come to light until after you’ve sold the house, you’re not free and clear. If you lied or failed to legally disclose the deficiency, the buyer can file a lawsuit against you for damages or the cost of repairs. Having an independent Pre-Listing Inspection performed is a great way to give full disclosure and limit your liability.
Below are some of the items you need to disclose. If you lie or misrepresent the truth about any of the following details, then you may find yourself in hot water.
Many sellers fear that disclosing past water damage will send a potential buyer running. But by failing to disclose, the seller risks scaring off the buyer when the home inspection uncovers evidence of damage. While it’s not a federal law, in most states it’s illegal to lie about your knowledge of water damage. It is much better for a seller to disclose known issues on the front end and either build repair costs into the price of the house or state repairs will not be made as part of the real estate transaction.
Treating a house for termites is expensive, and if fresh termite activity is found in the structure of your home, the buyer’s lender may refuse to loan money until the house has been treated and any damage has been repaired. If your house had termite damage in the past and you had the house treated, be sure to disclose the information (and show your receipts). Never try to conceal fresh termite damage. Most lenders require a separate termite inspection, so if your house has damage, the inspector will find it.
Roof Damage or Leaks
Most states require you to disclose knowledge of any previous roof leaks or damage. It’s better to inform the buyer up front rather than lie and then have the lie discovered during the home inspection. A reasonable buyer is not going to pass up your home just because you had a leaky roof fixed. But if a buyer finds out you lied about the condition of the roof, then the buyer can legally pull out of the contract.
Known Mechanical Problems
A home’s mechanical elements, including its wiring, plumbing, and HVAC system, are thoroughly checked during an inspection. If you’ve had electrical, sewer, heating, or air-conditioning issues, detail them thoroughly on the disclosure form. You should consider getting a Pre-Listing Home Inspection with a Home Inspector who offers free warranty protection with the inspection. This free warranty coverage can help you if an appliance breaks during the listing period. If the mechanical elements are all working well, consider purchasing a home warranty and offering it as part of the real estate transaction. This allows the buyers to file a claim with the warranty company if something goes wrong with one of the mechanical elements during the warranty period. The warranty protection not only protects the buyer, but it protects you, the Seller.
Some homeowners decide to sell their appliances with the house instead of moving them to a new house. If you are leaving the appliances, disclose even minor problems with them—it’s just not worth lying about their condition. Unless they’re still under warranty, it’s usually better to sell your house without the appliances and then, if the buyer wants them, make it clear that while you will leave them, you will not guarantee they are in working order.
Remodeling Done Without a Permit
Most communities have permit regulations, and if you remodeled your home without a permit, it’s understandable that you’d be leery about revealing that. While you might think no one will notice, failure to disclose this little fact will get you busted nearly every time. Your local building authority reports construction changes to the county Register of Deeds, so you could get caught when someone notices that your home’s existing configuration does not match the description on record. You could also be sued later if some of the remodeling you did was not up to building code. To be on the safe side, disclose it now.
If your house is in an earthquake zone, near a sinkhole, or in an area prone to flooding or forest fires, disclose that information up front. Most states require this type of disclosure, but even if you live in a state that doesn’t, the buyer could later file a claim against you for misrepresentation. Worst-case scenario—you could end up being ordered to pay for damages resulting from the hazard in addition to paying both yours and the buyer’s legal fees.
A Stigmatized House
In some states, sellers must inform potential buyers if unpleasant events, such as a suicide, murder, or cult activity, have ever occurred in the home. Even if your state doesn’t require disclosing that a house is stigmatized, it’s a good idea to tell the truth. Fair or not, houses with unsavory pasts often sell for less than similar houses with unsullied records. Tricking a buyer by not disclosing the full story could get you slapped with a lawsuit for misrepresentation.
It’s a good idea to let potential buyers know if you’ve been neighbors over the location of the boundary lines, the pruning of trees, or the position of your fence. Ongoing disputes can cause headaches for the new owners, and even if you’re not required by law to disclose the problem, it’s nice to give the buyers a heads-up so they won’t be caught unawares.
If your house was built prior to 1978, federal law requires you to disclose whether you are aware of the presence of lead-based paint. If your home is listed with a real estate agent, he or she will ask you to sign a special form indicating whether you are aware of the presence of lead-based paint. If you don’t know, that’s OK—just check the box that says you are unaware of any lead-based paint. But you are still required to fill out the form and sign it.
Insects and Rodents
In most states, sellers are required to disclose the presence of any type of pest infestation, including but not limited to, racoons, bats, mice, and bedbugs. If you try to be sneaky and hide the problem, you could be facing a lawsuit when the new buyer finds swarms of cockroaches in the walls and discovers the house has had the pests for years. Best option? Call in a professional exterminator and then disclose that you had a pest problem, and it’s been treated.
Do you want to be viewed as an honest and transparent Seller?
Do you want to be more legally protected and get free warranty protection?
Do you want to be in more control or the real estate transaction and maximize the equity in your house?
Contact Aardvark Home Inspection Inc. to schedule a professional home inspection for your home now! https://www.aardvarkinspect.com/seller-inspection
Dave Klima / Aardvark Home Inspectors Inc
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