11 Lies You Can’t Tell When Selling Your Home
Selling your house can be a high-stress undertaking. You want potential buyers to see your home at its best, so you might wonder whether you really need to disclose every little thing that’s wrong with it. Some material defects must be disclosed by law, and if you lie about other details—and your lie is discovered during an inspection—you could lose your buyer. Even if a lie doesn’t come to light until after you’ve sold the house, you’re not free and clear; the buyer can file a lawsuit against you for damages or the cost of repairs. So, as you strive to make your house as attractive as possible to potential buyers, be aware that if you lie about any of the following details, you may find yourself in hot water.
If your house was built prior to 1978, federal law requires you to disclose whether or not you are aware of the presence of lead-based paint. If your home is listed with a real estate agent, he or she will ask you to sign a special form indicating whether you are aware of the presence of lead-based paint. If you don’t know, that’s OK—just check the box that says you are unaware of any lead-based paint. But you are still required to fill out the form and sign it.
Bats in the Belfry
In most states, sellers are required to disclose the presence of any type of pest infestation, including bats, mice, and bedbugs. If you try to be sneaky and hide the problem, you could be facing a lawsuit when the new buyer finds swarms of cockroaches in the walls and discovers the house has had the pests for years. Best option? Call in a professional exterminator and then disclose that you had a pest problem, and it’s been treated.
Many sellers fear that disclosing past water damage will send a potential buyer running. But by failing to disclose, the seller risks scaring off the buyer when the home inspection uncovers evidence of damage. While it’s not a federal law, in most states it’s illegal to lie about your knowledge of water damage.
A Stigmatized House
In some states, sellers must inform potential buyers if unpleasant events, such as a suicide, murder, or cult activity, have ever occurred in the home. Even if your state doesn’t require disclosing that a house is stigmatized, it’s a good idea to tell the truth. Fair or not, houses with unsavory pasts often sell for less than similar houses with unsullied records. Tricking a buyer by not disclosing the full story could get you slapped with a lawsuit for misrepresentation.
Treating a house for termites is expensive, and if fresh termite activity is found in the structure of your home, the buyer’s lender may refuse to loan money until the house has been treated and any damage has been repaired. If your house had termite damage in the past and you had the house treated, be sure to disclose the information (and show your receipts). Never try to conceal fresh termite damage. Most lenders require a separate termite inspection, so if your house has damage, they’ll find it.
Remodeling Done Without a Permit
Most communities have permit regulations, and if you remodeled your home without a permit, it’s understandable that you’d be leery about revealing that. While you might think no one will notice, failure to disclose this little fact will get you busted nearly every time. Your local building authority reports construction changes to the county Register of Deeds, so you could get caught when someone notices that your home’s existing configuration does not match the description on record. You could also be sued later if some of the remodeling you did was not up to building code. To be on the safe side, disclose it now.
Roof Damage or Leaks
Most states require you to disclose knowledge of any previous roof leaks or damage. It’s better to inform the buyer up front rather than lie and then have the lie discovered during the home inspection. A reasonable buyer is not going to pass up your home just because you had a leaky roof fixed. But if a buyer finds out you lied about the condition of the roof, she can legally pull out of the contract.
Some homeowners decide to sell their appliances with the house instead of moving them to a new house, or trying to sell them separately. If you are leaving the appliances, disclose even minor problems with them—it’s just not worth lying about their condition. Unless they’re still under warranty, it’s usually better to sell your house without the appliances and then, if the buyer wants them, make it clear that while you will leave them, you will not guarantee they are in working order.
If your house is located in an earthquake zone, near a sinkhole, or in an area prone to flooding or forest fires, disclose that information up front. Most states require this type of disclosure, but even if you live in a state that doesn’t, the buyer could later file a claim against you for misrepresentation. Worst-case scenario—you could end up being ordered to pay for damages resulting from the hazard in addition to paying both your and the buyer’s legal fees.
It’s a good idea to let potential buyers know if you’ve been neighbors over the location of the boundary lines, the pruning of trees, or the position of your fence. Ongoing disputes can cause headaches for the new owners, and even if you’re not required by law to disclose the problem, it’s nice to give the buyers a heads-up so they won’t be caught unawares.
Known Mechanical Problems
A home’s mechanical elements, including its wiring, plumbing, and HVAC system, are thoroughly checked during an inspection. If you’ve had electrical, sewer, heating, or air-conditioning issues, detail them thoroughly on the disclosure form. If the mechanical elements are all working well, consider purchasing a home warranty before your house closes. This allows the buyers to file a claim with the warranty company if something goes wrong with one of the mechanical elements within a period of up to one year.
Source: American Society of Home Inspectors; written by Glenda Taylor; originally published by Bob Vila.
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