You don’t need to be a private eye to uncover problems in your new home.
You’ve finally found a house that checks all the boxes, so now it’s time to make an offer, sign on the dotted line, and book the movers, right? Not so fast. That dream home for sale in San Francisco, CA, can turn out to be a real nightmare if the seller failed to disclose a cracked house foundation or pest infestation, and you fail to notice until after closing. Here are five things sellers commonly try to hide during the sales process, and the questions you can ask to suss out the truth.
Leaky faucets, radiators, ceilings, roofs — you name it, real estate agents, brokers, and sellers might try to temporarily plug that drip to attract offers. But honesty is always the best policy, and admitting your property’s faults can actually work in your favor. Jennifer Breu, a real estate agent based in New York, NY, once showed a home with a ceiling that was falling down; she still got a ton of offers on it and made the sale by being honest that the repairs would be made soon. “Leaks are very common, but they can be fixed very easily before the close,” says Breu. “It doesn’t pay to mask something that isn’t a huge issue and can be fixed. Transparency increases value.”
Don’t judge a book by its cover or a house by its pretty wallpaper. A house that looks beautiful could still have termites eating away inside the walls, and disclosure laws about pests vary from state to state. Michigan, North Carolina, and Texas require that sellers tell buyers about potential infestations during the sales process. If you have a sneaking suspicion there are pests taking up residence in your new home, don’t risk it — schedule a pest inspection before closing.
3. “Emotional defects”
Depending on the state, sellers don’t have to disclose if a property is haunted or if “emotional defects” such as a death or a murder occurred there. In 2014, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in favor of the real estate team that sold a house and did not tell the buyer it had been the site of a murder-suicide in 2006. This may not be a deal breaker for you, but you have a right to know — at least in some states. And if local laws don’t require a reveal, websites like DiedinHouse.com can give you peace of mind (or clue you in on a new home’s unsavory past).
4. Issues with the roof or foundation
Great Neck, NY–based Ian Aronovich and his wife fell in love with a house in 2014. Unfortunately, they spotted major cracks in the house foundation that would’ve cost tens of thousands of dollars to repair. “We smelled some mold in the basement and asked the owner if we could cut a small section of sheetrock to check for the source of [the] moisture,” Aronovich says. “As we peeled away the sheetrock, we noticed the crack. In the end, we did not buy that house.”
5. Age of home systems
RE/MAX agent Maura Neill in Atlanta, GA, sees a lot of sellers who try to hide the ages of water heaters and HVAC systems with two simple words: “Don’t know.” A home inspector can find out that information very quickly, so when in doubt, ask your inspector to look into it. And before you even get to the inspection stage, Neill says, the property disclosure can be telling when it comes to how forthright — and truthful — your seller is. “When it states the bare minimum, we know we are either dealing with a disconnected or uninvolved seller who doesn’t really know their home or with a seller who knows there are issues and doesn’t want to disclose them.”
Don’t be fooled
When it comes to buying a new home, don’t limit your questions to just real estate agents. Ask your potential new neighbors about the home as well, says Rhonda Duffy, a real estate agent in Atlanta, GA. “Buyers should first ask the neighbors three sets of key questions, including: ‘Why are the sellers moving?’ ‘Have you seen any repair trucks there lately?’ And ‘Are there any construction problems in the neighborhood?’”
You can also ask to see references and get a CLUE report: That stands for comprehensive loss underwriting exchange, a claims information report from your homeowners’ insurance agent. If you want to make a quick offer but still have questions, Neill suggests that your agent add a condition to your offer that inquiries must be answered at a later date (but before closing). “Being diligent in getting questions answered is an important piece of the puzzle for buyers, who should take every opportunity to get to know as much about the house they are buying from the person who knows it best: the seller.”
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