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Real estate disclosures can help you avoid a money pit

Purchasing a new home is often a risk, especially if the property is not a new construction. Homes with histories may have hidden defects or issues. Sometimes, if the buyer had known beforehand about certain problems with the house, he or she may not have gone through with the purchase.

If you are in the market for a new home, you certainly do not want to be caught off guard or left with repair expenses that a fair disclosure may have prevented. By law, a seller must inform a buyer of certain defects and conditions, so you may have a case for seeking legal redress if the seller of your home hid critical information from you about the condition of the property.

Tell me what I need to know

Federal law only requires the disclosure of lead paint. Aside from that, each state determines what a seller must disclose up front and those factors a seller must reveal if a buyer asks. After you make an offer on a house, the seller must present you with a disclosure form that names any defects or potential issues about which the seller is aware. Sellers do not have to search for defects or hire an inspector. They must tell you only about those problems that they know about, such as:

  • Any easements or encroachments over the property lines
  • A history of flooding
  • The presence of lead, radon, pests, mold or other hazards
  • The conditions of the appliances, electricity, plumbing and other systems in the home
  • Any construction or renovations that occurred without permits
  • The presence of any material defects in the walls, ceilings or foundation

Material defects are those that may alter a buyer's decision to purchase the property. Every state has its own laws and its own list of items a seller must disclose. For example, some states do not require a seller to tell you if someone died violently in the home or if previous owners reported signs of paranormal activity. If these factors will determine whether you will go through with the purchase, you would be wise to ask about them and document the seller or agent's response.

Additionally, if you purchase a home and soon discover material defects you believe the previous owner may have hidden or failed to disclose, you may have cause for legal action. Reaching out to an attorney with experience in New York real estate laws can provide you with answers to your question and a plan for pursuing any compensation you may deserve.

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