Let’s face it. You’re no expert in property appraisal. At least, you aren’t if you’re the average home buyer. You can look at a piece of property and decide what you like and what you could do without, but when it comes to the issues beneath the surface, most people don’t know what to look for. In both the old communities and newly developed neighborhoods, there could be major, costly problems behind the walls, beneath the foundation, or in the air that you may not notice until it’s too late.
What Do Real Estate Agents Disclose?
That’s where real estate agents come in, right? They’re the experts and they’re required to tell you the nitty gritty details that you might miss. While that is generally true, there is a catch. In most states, real estate agents are required to be forthcoming about any problems or features that would influence buying decisions. However, what if the real estate agent doesn’t know about the black mold behind the drywall or the leaky roof, they can’t disclose those issues. It would be up to the seller let you or your agent know about those unseen problems.
Now there are, of course, solid real estate agents that do their homework and find out as much as they can about the property in order to set you up with the ideal home for you. However, even a great real estate agent may not be an expert in home inspecting.
What Do Sellers Have to Tell You?
Since real estate agents can only tell you what they know, how much do sellers have to disclose? They have a lot less incentive to tell you about the defects that might be hidden around a piece of property. Typically, agents will ask questions about the property and give sellers an opportunity to give a statement about the property’s condition. However, the law doesn’t require the seller to disclose any particular information in most states. That is, with two exceptions.
Sellers have to tell you if there is lead paint used on the property if the home has been built before 1978. Since lead is so hazardous to health, this is a good thing to learn about before purchasing a home. Second, sellers have to disclose the condition of the septic system, which can be a nightmare if broken (Title 5 septic certification in MA).
Beyond that, a seller only has to answer questions truthfully. They can’t lie when asked about the potential presence of mold or the leaky roof, but they don’t have to volunteer that information either. Plus, they can only tell you what they know.
Why a Home Inspection is Your Best Bet
The best way to buy a used car is to bring it in to have it inspected by a trusted mechanic before purchase. You should do the same with a house. Unlike sellers and real estate agents, home inspectors have specific training when it comes to finding defects in a piece of property. If you are looking for a quality home, an inspector can tell you about anything that will lead to costly issues down the road.