Does Home Disclosure Have to Include Previous Repairs?

previous home repair

By: Jeanne Sager

Home repairs are part and parcel of home ownership, but when it comes time to sell, does a home disclosure have to include those repairs?

It can be a conundrum. Buyers want (and deserve to have) a full picture of the house they’re buying and the condition it is in. However, disclosing a previous home repair may actually turn off a potential buyer. A foundation that’s had repairs for leaks several times over in recent years, for example, may signal to the buyer that they could have a major water problem on their hands. Both legal and ethical considerations come into play when you’re debating whether or not to ‘fess up to a previous repair. So let’s dig in!

What do you have to disclose to the seller?

Federal seller disclosure laws require sellers to be open and honest about the existence of lead-based paint in a home, but most laws regarding what a seller must share with a buyer are made at the state level. That means your state may or may not require that you disclose a previous repair, says Kathryn Bishop, a Realtor® with Keller Williams in Studio City, CA. To find out the laws in your state, do a search online for “[your state] seller disclosure laws.”

Does home disclosure include a previous repair?

In Bishop’s home state of California, law dictates that every significant repair made since purchasing a property needs to be disclosed. Your real estate agent will be able to advise you on what regulations must be followed in your state, so it’s best to disclose a previous repair to them at your first meeting about the sale. And note there are some exceptions to the law. You don’t have to share every single fix made in all the years you’ve lived in a house—just the big ones.

“I don’t mean when you’ve changed a faucet washer,” Bishop clarifies. “I mean when you had to repair a plumbing break.”

Nor do you technically have to disclose work done by the previous owner, even if they disclosed it to you. That said, many experts advise that sellers share that information too.

Because they might very well find out on their own, anyway. During the home inspection phase, buyers may request a copy of your Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE) report—a free report that details every claim made to your homeowner’s insurance in the past seven years. And even if you paid for a repair without the help of insurance, an eagle-eyed home inspector may note fresh paint on a ceiling repaired after a plumbing leak or start asking why the hot water heater, furnace, and other basement appliances seem to be brand new. Failing to disclose any of these things could put you in serious legal trouble.

The ethical side of seller disclosure

Even when disclosure isn’t required by law, or a project was done by a previous owner, Bishop still discusses disclosure with her clients. After all, you don’t want the seller caught by surprise with an issue that preceded your homeownership.

“If the previous owner disclosed in writing that they had a serious case of mold and it’s been cleaned up, I will advise my client who is now selling to pull out those old papers and disclose,” she says. “We know that what typically happens is the new buyer moves in, and the next-door neighbor asks if the mold has been cleaned up!”

The ways seller disclosure helps you

If following the law and being ethical aren’t reasons enough to disclose a previous repair, there’s are other benefits to doing so, says Michele Lerner, author of “Homebuying: Tough Times, First Time, Any Time.” Among them:

  • Buyers might prefer negotiating with sellers who have proven they are upfront with information about their home, as opposed to those who are just spinning everything to attract buyers.
  • Buyers want to know that sellers have maintained their property appropriately, so providing an example of your diligence in repairing your bathroom and fixing your ceiling can have a positive impact.
  • Your disclosure can protect you from future disputes with the buyers.
  • Buyers may feel relieved that you have already made necessary repairs, since that becomes one project they don’t have to handle in the immediate future.

 

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Should Sellers Hire a Home Inspector, Too? The Pros and Cons of Pre-inspection

home inspector

By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon

Every home buyer knows hiring a home inspector to check out a property before closing is a good idea. In fact, a home inspection is often a requirement for a mortgage. The trickier question is this: Should home sellers also hire a home inspector to conduct a pre-inspection? That’s where you have an inspector scrutinize your property for problems before it’s even listed.

Is a pre-inspection worthwhile? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons.

Pro: A pre-inspection means fewer surprises

Regardless of who’s doing the hiring, a certified home inspector evaluates about 1,600 items that make up the property’s foundation, structure, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems. The purpose is to uncover hidden and potentially expensive problems that could affect the value of the home.

For buyers, the results of a home inspection contingency in a sales contract can empower them to request repairs, reopen price negotiations, or abandon the deal without forfeiting their earnest money.

For sellers, the benefits of a pre-inspection are less clear-cut. At the very least, it offers some peace of mind: Identifying problems, or lack thereof, can soften the suspense of waiting to hear back from the buyer’s home inspector about possibly pricey repairs that might be deemed necessary.

Con: A pre-inspection costs money

Still, only 10% of home inspectors are hired by sellers, says Claude McGavic, executive director of the National Association of Home Inspectors. And one reason for this may be simply money.

On average, a home inspection will cost about $200 to $500. Because pre-inspections aren’t required, that’s cash you could put toward other things such as home improvements or repairs that you know will help sell your home.

Pro: A pre-inspection gives you time to fix problems

However, pre-inspections give sellers the ability to fix problems ahead of time—and present buyers with a clean bill of health on the property.

“If the seller knows what an inspector thinks is wrong with the house, they can fix it before the buyer’s inspector shows up,” says McGavic. This also presents a strong first impression to buyers, who may see your house in a more positive light and boost their offer.

Con: A pre-inspection doesn’t mean you’re in the clear

Just because you hired a home inspector doesn’t mean the buyers won’t hire their own—and their results won’t necessarily be the same.

“If you had 10 different inspectors out to the home, you would very likely get 10 completely different reports,” says Atlanta real estate agent Bill Golden. “Some of the issues that the seller addressed may not have come up at all. All in all, I think it’s a waste of time and money.”

In other words, even if you spring for a pre-inspection and address the issues that come up, the buyer’s inspector might have overlooked those problems—instead identifying new problems that require more repairs. And because buyers will typically trust their inspector more than yours, they may demand that these other issues get fixed, too.

Con: A pre-inspection could obligate you to disclose these problems

Another downside to pre-inspections is that once home sellers are aware of a problem, they may be required by law to disclose them to buyers. These laws vary by state, so ask your listing agent for more specifics. Generally, bad history—flooding, sewage backups—must be disclosed if you know about it. And because this could perhaps scare off buyers or complicate negotiations, it’s no wonder that some sellers may prefer to stay blissfully ignorant.

“Not that you want to hide anything,” Golden says, “but you may be shining a light on things that may not have ever become issues if you hadn’t hired an inspector. It creates mountains out of molehills and prolongs the process.”

That said, McGavic thinks a seller has a “moral if not legal” obligation “to find out if there’s anything wrong with their house.”

In other words, it might be the right thing to do. So, is a pre-inspection right for you? There is no right or wrong answer, so it pretty much boils down to whether you prefer to nip potential problems in the bud, or wait and see if they develop.

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What Does a Home Inspector Look For? A Whole Lot

home inspectors
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7 Things Your Home Inspector Wishes You Knew

home inspector

By: Jamie Wiebe

No matter whether you’re buying or selling, the home inspection process can be somewhat terrifying: For sellers, it’s a stark reminder of the nagging issues you might have turned a blind eye to over the years. And for buyers, it’s a recipe for pure heartbreak—falling in love with a home that might just end up making no sense to buy.

But don’t let the inspection stress you out. And remember, that’s not what your inspector wants either—all he or she wants is a comprehensive to-do list and a happy client.

So form a team with your home inspector to make the process easier and more effective. Knowledge is key! Here are seven essential things you keep in mind.

For sellers

1. Move your pets

We know your puppy is adorable—but even if your home inspector loves dogs or cats, pets running underfoot makes the job much more difficult.

Inspections often require opening exterior doors again and again, offering pets far too many opportunities to dash to freedom. When you leave the premises for the inspection—and many inspectors ask sellers to do so—take your pets with you. Please.

With animals out of the way, “every time I walk in or out, I don’t have to worry about losing a cat or a dog,” says Alan Singer of Sterling Home Inspections in Armonk, NY.

2. Don’t forget to clean

Whether you plan on being there for the inspection or not, make sure to clean up beforehand. No, you don’t need to scrub—an inspector won’t ding you because your stove’s grimy. But all that clutter? Yeah, that’s all got to go.

“It makes a huge difference when I walk into a house where everything’s put away,” Singer says. “It’s a game changer not just for me, but for the home buyer.”

Often, the inspection is the first time the buyers are (almost) alone in the house for an extended period of time.

“If it doesn’t feel like how it did before—if we’re trying to dig through items—it can sour their experience,” Singer says.

For buyers

1. Your potential home will have problems

Your home inspector will likely come up with a seemingly endless list of problems after the walk-through. Don’t panic!

“I’m on their side, but still, I’m judging the house fairly,” Singer says. “Even my home has problems, issues, maintenance things.”

Yeah, there are times when you should worry (we’ll get to those a bit later). But not every issue is mission-critical, and your inspector will know which problems you should tackle first.

2. Almost anything can be fixed

There are a few starkly frightening home inspection terms that seem to be in everyone’s vocabulary: mold, radon, and asbestos.

And yes, they’re scary—but no scarier than a roof that needs replacing, home inspectors say.

“People who write articles tend to scare homeowners about mold or radon,” Singer says.

So let us—your humble (and rather defensive) writers—take a moment to correct that assumption: Don’t worry so much about mold and radon!

Singer, who started his career in homebuilding, says, “everything is upgradable, fixable, or replaceable. You just need to have a list of what those things are.”

Not convinced yet? Check out this Washington Post article about a couple who got a discount on a four-bedroom Colonial because they weren’t terrified by mold.

3. One thing you should worry about is water

Here’s one problem we give you permission to stress out about (just a little): water. No, it’s not a deal breaker (remember that part where we wrote almost anything can be fixed?). But it’s important to address any water-related issues before the deal closes—or at least immediately afterward.

Make a note of issues such as puddles and leaky ceilings. And give special attention to the basement. Addressing water problems in the basement can be an expensive and difficult proposition, Singer says. “A wet basement can be hard to fix.”

4. Home inspectors can’t predict the future

You might want to know how many more years the roof will hold up—and while your inspector might be able to give you a rough estimate, he can’t give you a precise timeline.

“People think that we as inspectors have a crystal ball,” Singer says. “Or that we have X-ray vision” to see through walls or examine the inner circuitry of your kitchen stove.

Sorry, folks: They don’t, and they can’t.

“We can’t tell you how long it will last,” Singer says. “We can just tell you if it’s in good shape.”

5. Find the balance between your heart and brain

It’s easy to forget your love for the home when you’re counting the dollar signs and hours you might have to spend on repairs. But just remember to take a deep breath, think rationally, and consider whether it’s a smart investment in your future.

Singer empathizes: “The justification can sometimes be a horrible process, because our brains are all about money and time and (asking) ‘What kind of mistake am I making?’”

Barring any major renovations needed—such as a new roof or mold removal—your inspector’s visit will simply provide a to-do list. But not everything needs fixing immediately, so don’t let a long list dampen your love for the home. Just take things one at a time.

 

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3 Areas Your Home Inspector Should Check in the Attic

home inspection

By: Patricia Anne Tom

Before purchasing a house, it’s important to hire a home inspector to evaluate the home from bottom to top—including the attic.

This often-overlooked storage space can provide visual cues to potential problems in the safety and structural integrity of a home.

If there is damage present, the inspection can help you determine what to bring into the sale negotiations, including an estimate of repair costs.

Look at these three primary areas when analyzing the attic.

1. Structural Damage

Before closing on a home, the home inspector should examine the attic for structural damage. Damage to the trusses and rafters can indicate that the home has shifted, causing them to crack or break. A substandard level of wood quality, improper construction or incorrect lumber size may have allowed these pieces to deteriorate and could cause the roof to sag and eventually leak.

If there has been fire damage, you should be able to see evidence in black marks from charred or smoke-damaged wood. However, check to see that such damage hasn’t been camouflaged with layers of paint.

Because water usually enters the shell of the home from the roof and not from the sides, you may see water stains if the roof is leaking or has leaked in the past. Signs of moisture also could indicate that ventilation is inadequate.

Inspectors also may be able to see pest damage from termites if they have eaten the wood (or from other rodents that can leave chew marks on wires and insulation or excrement). Rodents like squirrels and rats often enter through the eaves or loose boards.

2. Proper Insulation

An attic must be properly insulated with the required R-level of insulation material for your climate: the colder the climate, the higher R insulation number. Your home inspector will note whether this is up to code, as the code may have changed since the home’s original construction.

An inspector also should be able to tell you whether insulation has been placed properly and in the correct direction, according to the type of batts (sections of insulation backed with heavy paper) or blow-in insulation used.

In addition, attic windows and dormers should be properly insulated and in good condition to prevent outdoor elements from entering into the attic.

3. Chimney and Storage Areas

An attic inspection will show the condition of the exterior of the chimney shaft under the roof. It should be sealed properly where it meets the attic floor and roof. The condition of the bricks and mortar should be solid—not cracked and crumbly.

Although this inspection will not tell you what the interior chimney shaft condition is like, it will give you an idea of the chimney’s exterior structural health.

While the inspector performs the attic inspection, note the condition of storage areas and attic floors, look for damaged floorboards and again look for evidence of water, pest and fire damage.

Crawling into the attic may be uncomfortable, but a proper inspection will help to ensure there are no skeletons in the attic that will haunt the integrity of your future home.

Updated from an earlier version by Philip Commins.

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