What hidden situations does a vendor must disclose? – Solar Sentinel
Posted On March 9, 2023
Q: When selling a home, what is the law regarding disclosure of adverse conditions affecting a house being considered for purchase? For example, would disclosure be required for a house directly on a nearby airport’s flight path? — Louis
A: When selling property, the law traditionally has been “caveat emptor,” which translates to “let the buyer beware,” meaning that it was up to the buyer to investigate and find any problems with the house being purchased. Like society, the law has evolved.
While many traditional rules still apply, sellers of residential properties in most places are now required to tell potential buyers about known “latent” defects. A latent defect is a problem with the house that a reasonable buyer would not find in a typical investigation.
For example, leaking pipes in the walls would be a latent defect. Hidden defects are not limited to the physical and can include your example of intermittent noisy airplane traffic.
Depending on the situation and where you live, if a seller fails to disclose a hidden problem, they would be on the hook for the cost of fixing the problem or the difference in the market value of what the property is worth with and without the issue.
Resolving these issues usually involves fact-intensive litigation, which is time-consuming and expensive. Determining whether the seller knew of the undisclosed problem and whether it was latent can be challenging, and with lawsuits, challenging means expensive.
No seller wants to get sued after closing, so I advise my clients to disclose everything in writing to the buyer. A simple test to determine whether something should be disclosed is that if you must ask whether something should be disclosed, then you should disclose it.
I have found that motivated buyers are rarely scared away by disclosed problems. If the issue is severe enough to scare someone away, it is serious enough for that person to sue the seller when they find the problem.
While proper disclosure protects the buyer from purchasing an unknown problem, it protects the seller from more significant problems after the closing.
Like real estate, disclosure requirements can vary greatly depending on where the property is, so speak to a local professional to ensure you are protected.
Board-certified real estate lawyer Gary Singer writes about industry legal matters and the housing market. To ask him a question, email him at [email protected], or go to SunSentinel.com/askpro.