The Time for a Property Disclosure Dispute Is BEFORE the Closing
I have recently had a few clients come to me recently with issues surrounding property disclosure statements.
Legally remedies in Ohio are generally circumvented by the Purchase Agreement. Most common purchase agreements used in Ohio contain language to limit seller’s liability for disclosure. Though these may not be true “as is” transactions, seller’s can be shielded from liability for unknown issues.
Leaky basements are the most common issue making it to trial in Ohio, because they combine high potential for concealment (by selling in a dry season and painting over water spots) with high costs for repairs. Be on the look out for these issues.
Steps to Avoid a Situation with Property Disclosures:
- Read the Property Disclosure– while risking sounding patronizing, this is the most important first step. Read and carefully review the property disclosure. Follow with realtors and sellers with any questions that you have. You may feel pressure to “just sign the documents,” but do not cave to it. This will be one of the most important financial and life decisions that you make.
- Talk to the neighbors– they may tell you far more than you expect. I personally had a neighbor tell me about flooding issues that were totally glossed over by the Property Disclosure. Evidently, her house and the one I was looking at were added to the neighborhood after the final phase in a former water swale. The neighbor felt that she “was not telling me anything that they didn’t have to disclose.” That is true, but often not the case.
- Get a reputable general inspector to inspect the property– a seller quarreling with an inspection period is a major red flag. They will be able to comment on build quality and factors you may not consider if you do not have extensive construction experience. Things like inspecting the quality of paint goes a long way to illuminating the quality of worker who built and maintained your house. There is upfront cost, but it can save you a lot of money and headache in the long run.
- Get Specialized Inspectors if your general inspector flags an issue– a quality, cost-conscious inspector will be able to tell you whether another inspection is worth it. Most typically, roofs with red flags and freshly painted basement walls will signal a need for further investigation. If your concerned about the additional cost after getting serious concern from the inspector, your best bet may be to walk away.
So what if you already bought what you thought was your dream house? Maybe you talked to a neighbor too late or stumble upon old records in the house or newspaper and issues that should have been disclosed were not?
The first step; if you hired a real estate agent, is to contact them. They will be familiar with the transaction and can work cooperatively to find a solution. When I interviewed a real estate agent with over 30 years experience, she said that she has never seen one of the issues go to court. They have always settled. Both seller’s and buyer’s agents have reputation stakes to bring the case to a satisfactory conclusion.
If that does not work, then it is time to contact an attorney. In my experience, both parties get a lot more “tense” when an attorney is involved and that may not be the best way to approach negotiations. But the circumstances may require legal action. If so, have the following in order:
- Your Purchase Agreement,
- Property Disclosure Statement,
- Inspection Reports in order, and
- any correspondence you have regarding the situation.
It may be an uphill climb, but where there was fraudulent concealment of known issues a real estate attorney can often help to reach a good conclusion.