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How Insisting On Disclosure Can Save You Money & Grief

Updated on February 27, 2010

Think this through very carefully. You're in the back seat of your agent's car and he's just pulled up to the house of your dreams. A "for sale" sign is planted in the lawn and, even better, your agent thinks you can afford it.

Stop right there. First, all homes for sale look good on a sunny Saturday morning. The green grass is always nicely trimmed. The blue shutters are always freshly painted. But second, what you can't see is whether the roof leaks or the foundation is cracked. The key word here is "disclosure." Know what you're buying.

Today, thanks to competition, litigation and legislation, modern home buyers can take advantage of an arsenal of tools to help them know what they're getting, possibly saving years of grief and thousands of dollars. There have been cases where the lack of interest that the buyer and their attorneys have shown can end up in lengthy, protracted, extremely expensive, and mind-numbing court cases that drag on for months and even years. Remember that whenever you're entering into a real estate transaction unless you are extremely careful it has the potential of turning into a complete nightmare!

For instance, now there are "buyer agents" to help gather information about a property's condition and value. Sellers are required to warn buyers about known defects. Inspectors are available to check out heating systems, air conditioners, roofs and basements.

All these tools, however, require a little perspective.

Laws and the Courts

The most significant advances in property disclosure have come from Congress, the courts and state legislatures. In recent years the government has mandated that buyers considering homes built before 1978 be warned of the possible presence of lead-based paint, a substantial contributor to lead poisoning in children. Laws also have been passed regarding testing for radon gas, which causes lung cancer. Also, every state has adopted some kind of "Megan's Law," requiring that the presence of a sex offender in the neighborhood be made known. The effectiveness of those laws, however, varies dramatically from state to state. If you are concerned, prudence dictates you call local enforcement officials and ask for a list.

Buyer Agents

One of the best things that has happened in real estate is the spread of "buyer agency," which means buyers can hire someone they trust instead of relying on agents who represent the seller (whose job, after all, is to get the seller the highest price). A good buyer agent walks with you through a home for sale, making observations about value, reminding you that you want four bedrooms, not three, and that the yard is going to take major upkeep. It's not his job to tell you what to buy, just to make sure your heart doesn't get too far ahead of your head. Getting the right buyer agent, however, is a little tricky. The question to ask is: "Will you advise me and represent my best interests?" The right answer is, "yes." If you get "yes," followed by a lengthy disclaimer that sometimes "yes" means "yes" but sometimes it may mean "no," then consider finding another agent. It's a simple question and you need a simple answer.

Continued In How Insisting On Disclosure Can Save You Money & Grief Part 2


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