Real-Estate Disclosure: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You

real estate disclosure

When a bulldozer began to to clear away dirt for an in-ground pool in Brian Dyer's back yard, the Lakeland, Fla., homeowner got the surprise of his life: mountains of trash emerged from the hole. "It's just a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach to see what they're bringing up with each scoop," he told Tampa Bay's 10News.

Dyer said that contractors tried to dig into three different areas in the backyard and each time, came up with more trash. "We found several tires, what appears to be washing machine tubs, trash, debris, metal parts, we found a lawnmower in the deep hole over there," he said, pointing to an 11-foot-deep hole. "You name it, it seems to be coming up out of the hole."
Dyer has no idea how much more trash is under his property, how far it goes--or, even worse, if it's under his house.

"We're very fearful at this point," he told 10News.

It's anybody's guess as to whether anyone but the person who dumped the stuff illegally knew it was there. Builders dug down the required 12 inches for the foundation when the house was built in 2006. The debris was hidden three feet deep.

Nobody knows who's responsible for cleaning up the mess, either. While Dyer is trying to figure out his recourse, he's abandoned his plans for an in-ground pool and is opting for an above-ground instead.

Dyer's plight reminds us a little of the snake house in rural Idaho, also in the news this week. In that case, homeowners bought their dream house, only to discover it was infested with thousands of garter snakes. Former owner Ben Sessions recalls killing 42 of them in a single day and resorted to making "snake sweeps" before his wife and young sons got out of bed in the morning. After battling the reptiles unsuccessfully for months, the family finally fled. They later filed for bankruptcy, and the bank foreclosed on the property.

If "location, location, location" is the most important thing about real estate, "disclosure, disclosure, disclosure" runs a close second. Sellers are required to disclose "material facts" about their home that might influence your decision to buy -- the roof that leaks, problems with the septic system in heavy rains, the fact that the guy next door keeps bees who sometimes mistake your porch for his. (The only exception to this is if you're buying a bank-owned property; in foreclosure sales, the bank isn't required to tell you anything.)

Of course, disclosure couldn't help Dyer, since his wife bought the house when it was new construction, and the builder denied any knowledge of the trash dump. But Sessions learned his lesson the hard way. According to reports, when he bought the house, the snake infestation had been documented. But Sessions -- believing it was just a story concocted by the previous owner to walk away from the mortgage -- signed the disclosure document anyway. So when the story turned out to be true, he had no legal recourse.

All of which underscores the importance, as a buyer, of doing your due diligence and investigating every disclosure your seller is required to make. And as a seller, it's equally important to be up front about your home's flaws -- even the ones you have paid to correct.

Most states require disclosure of deaths, as well, and not just the ones from unnatural causes. If a natural death occurred in the house within the past three years, it needs to be disclosed -- right up there with whether unleaded paint is on the walls if the home was built before 1978.

And it goes without saying, best to disclose whether your house is built on a trash heap or is infested with garter snakes.

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