Does the seller need to disclose a leaking pipe, a broken hot tub or a roof leak to the future buyer in Arlington, VA? They should, but they don’t have to. Actually in Virginia the owner states that the property and all improvements are sold “as is”, thus disclaiming any warranties or representations as to the condition of the property. The Disclaimer Statement that the owner gives to the purchaser advises the purchaser to use whatever due diligence the purchaser thinks necessary, including home and other other inspections to the determine the condition of the property. The purchaser must complete all such inspections prior to settlement. Here is the disclaimer statement that every purchaser gets to sign – read it for yourself.
So you are spending your life savings to buy this house – how do you protect yourself? I don’t think there is 100% bullet proof method, but there are some steps you can take:
1. Buy from a seller who is represented by a Realtor. Listing agents have greater disclosure obligations to purchasers that their seller clients have to purchasers. A listing agent must disclose to prospective purchasers all “material adverse facts pertaining to the physical condition of the property which are actually known” by the listing agent. Something is “material” if it could affect the decision of a reasonable person as to weather to purchase. So a leaking pipe in the bathroom probably won’t be a material fact, but if the agent knows there is an issue with the underground main water pipe that will cost thousands of dollars to fix – that should be disclosed, because it would affect purchaser’s buying decision.
2. Ask seller questions about the condition of the property. There are so many old homes in Arlington with basements that flood – you have to ask about the history:
- Does the basement flood during rain storms?
- How old is the roof?
- Have there been any roof leaks?
- Have there been any odor remediations – smoke, dead body (yes – it’s possible), fire, etc.
- Does the owner know of any past or current mold issues?
- Have the permits been pulled for the addition or major updates?
- And any other question that is relevant for the property you are purchasing.
If the seller answers the questions and then you find out that the answers were not true – you might have recourse in court. The sellers should answer these questions honestly, because they might end up in court and spend a lot more money and time than the repair of the actual issue.
3. Hire a reputable and experienced home inspector. Great home inspectors check every nook and cranny, but they can only inspect what they see. If there is an issue behind the wall that is not showing the signs yet (like water spots on the dry wall) – they won’t be able to discover it. They will discover most of the problems though – so please do a home inspection.
4. Talk to neighbors. Do they know anything about the house that you should know about?
The older the home – the more potential issues. If you’d like fewer issues – buy a newer home or a home that has been well maintained. Sometimes sellers have huge folders with every home repair/improvement receipt – I love those sellers. There is no 100% perfect house – every house has something that needs repair, but do as much due diligence as you can BEFORE settlement, or you can be really stuck with a lemon.
This list is more from my own experience than from some special source. Maybe you know another good way to figure out the issues with a property – I welcome any feedback and would be happy to modify the list. Or maybe you disagree with some of the above – again – I’m all ears. After 11 years and hundreds of transactions I have never had a seller disclose anything in Arlington, VA – so buyers – it’s on you to figure out what you are buying. Sellers – you are lucky to live in VA.