As a seller, what details must you disclose to a potential home buyer? As a buyer, would you want to know if something nefarious happened in the house? In many states, it is only necessary to mention physical problems: leaks, holes, etc. But what about the history of a house? Be prepared before purchasing your home.
Across the United States, most realtors and home owners are expected to reveal physical defects in a home. In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, for example, the law requires that closing paperwork list all the potential problems, such as leaky pipes, flooding, holes, bug infestations, etc., that the seller is aware of. A similar law states that sellers must make a reasonable effort to find and share information regarding the condition of the defect, i.e. repairs done on the house, age of the roof, etc.
If a seller purposely conceals an issue, however, the buyer can sue and/or rescind their offer of purchase. Having an inspection done before closing the deal will assure every one of the condition of the home and uncover any current or potential problems. There should be no surprises for the new owner.
Concealment or Not
What does the law say about a property that may have an unsavory past? If something nefarious happened in a home, must a realtor or homeowner reveal it to a potential buyer? For example, what if there was a death in the home or it was once used to sell drugs?
By not telling the potential buyer, is that considered concealment or fraud? Can a buyer sue the seller if they find out later that the house was built on an old graveyard or a murder was committed there? According to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, unless it is a physical defect, the owner does not need to reveal the issue. Psychological stigmas are not considered a material defect and cannot be determined what effect it may have on a buyer, if any. Other states may have the same law regarding non-physical issues, so be sure to find out before proceeding with your house hunting.
If you have your heart set on a house, do some research before contacting a bank for that loan. In New Jersey, for example, although the seller doesn’t have to reveal past events in the house, they must disclose “psychological defects” if a buyer asks directly. The seller must disclose any and all issues if they are aware of them – whether it’s a physical defect or an issue with its history – if the buyer wants to know.
Besides asking the seller directly, there are several other ways to find out about a home’s history. In today’s world of instant information, take some time to do a little sleuthing. Go online and get information from police reports, property records, death records, newspaper articles, sex-offender registries, and other sources. You can find data related to crimes in the area, drug-related incidents, and even fires. Get a history of who owned the house and when it was sold prior to the current owners. If you find something you’re unsure of – ask!
Frankly, having this information on hand gives you a lot of power when negotiating a price, even if nothing unseemly ever occurred.
Purchasing a house can be a huge financial commitment. Make sure you have all the tools you need to get the home you’ve always dreamed of. One of the best tools a homeowner can have is being represented by N.J. Lux Real Estate during the home buying process. If you are in the market for a new home, and want an experienced, reputable real estate agent to help you find your dream home, contact us today.