People buy and sell homes every day. However, many homes are sold during late spring and summer because moving on sunny days always beats moving through snow. Further, if kids are changing school districts as a part of a residential move, moving during the summer avoids relocation during a school year.
Regardless of when a home is purchased, it is inevitable that there will eventually be surprises. Many homes’ quirks only become apparent when seasons change, especially after a wet summer like we experienced in our region this year and especially now that the weather has become chillier and less humid.
Therefore, during this time of the year, in particular, recent home purchasers can find unexpected water in their crawlspaces or basements. As the temperature changes, particularly in older homes, anything made of wood (floorboards, doors, etc.) can become tighter or looser. And, sometimes, leaves, ice or snow can accumulate in unintended locations.
When purchasing a home, we can minimize later surprises by having the home inspected by a qualified home inspector. In fact, some banks require a home inspection if the bank is going to finance the home purchase. Additionally, buyers can and should critically study a home before purchasing, which is hard to do when certain aspects of the home are particularly attractive.
The law generally says that homebuyers (like buyers of other real estate) are responsible for their own investigation and analysis before purchasing a home. This principle is often called “buyer beware.” In other words, sellers do not have to identify most of the negative aspects of their home.
Nevertheless, when a less-than-ideal, unexpected circumstance arises in our home, we can be sad, hurt, embarrassed and angry. When we experience these emotions, we can be driven to find someone to blame. And, often, the blame is directed toward the home seller, even though the seller seldom has a duty to disclose most home deficiencies.
Notably, sellers of homes, despite having little/no legal responsibility to disclose problems, are required to complete a “property disclosure form.” On the form, the seller must identify and disclose to buyers only those issues with the home of which the seller is actually aware, especially if the issue is one that an inspection would not find.
For instance, if a basement leaked water and the homeowner simply waited for the basement to dry and then painted over the water-stained basement walls, the homeowner must disclose that fact to each prospective buyer. The seller’s duty to the buyer is to identify any problems that are actually known by the seller, particularly if a problem cannot be seen, like a basement leak hidden behind paint.
Although it seldom arises, some conditions that could affect homes’ values but that are entirely invisible must also be disclosed by sellers. For instance, many people may not want to live in a home within which someone was once murdered. A prospective home buyer would have no way of knowing that fact, so the seller must disclose that fact, if the seller knows.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.