5 Common Problems Home-Sellers Might Want to Hide

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realize_photo/FlickrMajor cracks in a foundation can cost tens of thousands of dollars to repair.
By Mallory Carra

Found your dream house, made the right offer, and you're ready to make a down payment? Not so fast. That fantasy home can turn out to be a real nightmare after you sign on the dotted line if the seller failed to disclose that that cracked foundation or pest infestation.

Here are five things sellers commonly try to hide during the sales process, and the questions you can ask to suss out the truth.

1. Leaks: Leaky faucets, radiators, ceilings, roofs -- you name it, real estate agents, brokers, and sellers might try to temporarily plug that drip to attract offers. But sometimes honesty is a better policy and%VIRTUAL-pullquote-"When it states the bare minimum, we know we are either dealing with a disconnected or uninvolved seller...."% shows you that the property is well-maintained. New York City-based Jennifer Breu once showed a home in which the ceiling was falling down and she still got a ton of offers on it and made the sale by being honest that the repairs would be made soon.

"Leaks are very common, but they can be fixed very easily before the close," says Breu, a licensed sales person with Charles Rutenberg Realty who also represents buyers. "It doesn't pay to mask something that isn't a huge issue and can be fixed. Transparency increases value."

2. Pests: The entire house looks wonderful, but believe it or not, termites could be eating away inside the walls. Disclosure laws about pests vary from state to state.Texas, Michigan, and North Carolina require that sellers tell buyers about an potential infestations during the sales process.

3. "Emotional defects": Depending on the state, sellers don't necessarily have to disclose whether a not a property is believed to be "haunted" or if "emotional defects" such as a death or a murder occurred there. Last summer, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in favor of the team that sold buyer Janet Milliken a house and did not tell her it was the site of a murder-suicide in 2006.

4. Issues with the roof or foundation:Great Neck, N.Y.-based Ian Aronovich and his wife fell in love with a house last year. Unfortunately, they spotted major cracks in the foundation that would've cost tens of thousands of dollars to repair.

"We smelled some mold in the basement, and asked the owner if we could cut a small section of sheetrock to check for the source of moisture," Aronovich says. "As we peeled away the sheetrock, we noticed the crack. In the end, we did not buy that house."

5. Age of systems: Atlanta RE/MAX realtor and team leader Maura Neill sees a lot of sellers try to hide the ages of water heaters and HVAC systems with two simple words: "Don't know."

But a home inspector could find out that information very quickly. Neill says she and her buyers tend to get a good sense of the selling side from the property disclosure.

"When it states the bare minimum, we know we are either dealing with a disconnected or uninvolved seller who doesn't really know their home or with a seller who knows there are issues and doesn't want to disclose them."

Questions You Should Ask:
  • Don't just limit your questions to the real estate agents -- ask your potential new neighbors about the home as well, says Rhonda Duffy, a top real estate agent in Atlanta. "Buyers should first ask three sets of neighbors key questions, including: 'Why are the sellers moving?', 'Have you seen any repair trucks there lately?', and 'Are there any construction problems in the neighborhood?'"
  • Ask to see references and get a getting a C.L.U.E. Report -- that stands for Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange, a claims information report -- from your homeowner's insurance agent.
  • If a buyer wants to make a quick offer, but still has questions, Neill suggests that they can actually write that as a condition of their initial offer that those inquiries can be answered at a later date before close. "Being diligent in getting questions answered is an important piece of the puzzle for buyers, who should take every opportunity to get to know as much about the house they are buying from the person who knows it best: the seller."
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