It pays to be wary when making a huge financial commitment.
- A motivated home seller can find clever ways to cover defects
- You are responsible for finding out the truth.
We are living in what seems like the Wild West of housing markets, with low mortgage rates, outrageous selling prices and frantic buyers. If you’re desperate to buy a home, slowing down to determine if the people selling a home are honest can feel oddly disconnected. Who has the luxury of being so picky?
Stay with us here. We’ll explain why it’s important that the people you’re buying from are honest or villainous, and we’ll look at how to spot a dishonest seller.
why is it important
Anyone who has ever sold a home knows the importance of showing the property in its best light. In a nutshell, it means decluttering, depersonalizing, and cleaning. The idea is to create an environment so pleasant that anyone walking through the front door can imagine themselves living in the space.
However, there are those sellers who go above and beyond to hide problems that need to be fixed, problems that you will inherit if you buy the house. These are the sellers to watch.
One of the many benefits of working with a real estate agent is that you have another set of eyes, another person to spot problems that the landlord has tried so hard to hide. And frankly, the fact that homeowners don’t always disclose every problem is why forgoing a home inspection is a bad idea. A qualified home inspector may not detect everything that is wrong with a home, but they are likely to detect major problems.
You are Detective Pinkerton
Like the old Pinkerton sleuths, you’ll need to rely on your senses and instincts to uncover any potential problems before you bid on a home. Here are just a few of the many common ways homeowners work to hide things.
1. They don’t disclose potential drainage issues
Let’s say the sun is shining without a cloud in sight and you are visiting a house. The last thing on your mind is what happens to the property in a storm. Still, it’s up to you to look for exterior drainage problems. Look for cracks in the sidewalk and driveway. Take a look at fences and retaining walls to see if there is erosion around these areas. A yard that doesn’t drain properly can lead to big problems. For example, pooling water attracts all kinds of pests, and poor drainage can lead to cracks in the foundation, which opens up a whole new box of worms.
2. They install a new roof for nefarious reasons
You see that there is a new roof and you automatically think: “Phew! That’s one less thing I’ll have to worry about. More than likely, the reason for the new roof was innocent. Maybe there was a storm that damaged the old roof, or it was just time to replace it. That said, it’s a huge investment that you’re striving to protect, so it pays to be wary. Sometimes a new roof is installed to hide long-term neglect, such as water in the attic, termites, rotting wood, or mold. A new roof is a sign that everything from the ceiling to the house needs a close look.
3. They carefully hide flaws
After looking at enough homes, you realize that everyone has a different definition of “clean and neat”, and it’s just a pleasure to walk into a completely organized room. Here’s the sneaky thing about having boxes and other neatly stacked items against the walls: you can’t see what’s behind them. Don’t hesitate to move objects away from the walls and look for cracks that could indicate a structural problem. And if there’s anything stacked around a furnace, water heater, or sump pump, set those aside as well. You may not be an HVAC expert, but you can get an idea of how well basic systems are maintained. If the last maintenance tag on the furnace is 10 years old, it could mean that the owner has done very little routine maintenance.
4. They paint for all the wrong reasons.
This one is tricky, as many homeowners give their homes a fresh coat of paint when it’s time to sell. The scoundrels we’re talking about here, however, paint to hide problems like wood rot, water damage, or mold. If a home’s exterior or interior has recently been painted, it’s time to take a closer look.
5. They cover defects
A rug can hide a host of problems, from warped or stained wood floors to broken tiles. If you see a rug while visiting a home, lift it up to see what’s hidden underneath. It may be nothing. But if you find a problem and still want the house, be aware that repairs can come from your bank account.
6. They hide rather than repair
Another sneaky trick that some home sellers use is to use roof sealant to mask leaks around a chimney and vents rather than making necessary repairs. The tricky part is determining when the sealant was used correctly to prevent water and air leaks, and when it is hiding problems that need to be repaired.
7. They fail to mention the things that happen at night
If you are bothered by buying a home where someone has recently died or even been murdered, check with your real estate agent. Laws requiring a home seller to disclose such occurrences vary from state to state. For example, sellers in Alaska and South Dakota must disclose any murders or suicides that have occurred in the home within the past year.
California sellers must disclose any deaths that have occurred within the past three years. New Jersey sellers should only disclose a death if it was due to property conditions, such as toxic mold or carbon monoxide. Most states say agents can’t hide the truth if a potential buyer asks — but that means you have to ask.
What about paranormal activity? Only four states – New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Minnesota – have laws requiring sellers to disclose paranormal activity to potential buyers. Again, if you want to know, it’s best to ask.
While a good home inspector can’t tell you if a home is haunted, they can investigate every nook and cranny of a home, just to make sure you know what you’re buying. No matter how badly you want a home, and no matter how good you are at spotting problems, think long and hard before giving up the right to an inspection.
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