When you're buying a house, you need to know about all the skeletons in the closets. You don't want to buy a house with leaky basement or asbestos in the walls. But if you do buy a house with those problems, you want to pay much less for the house so you have money left over to fix everything.
So what are sellers required to disclose when they show you a house? Do they have a legal ability to hide problems from buyers?
Sellers Must Legally Disclose Certain Problems
According to South Carolina law, sellers have a legal obligation to disclose certain things to potential buyers. However, they are not required to actively search out problems. They don't have to hire an inspector to check out their property. That's why it's important for you, the buyer, to schedule a property inspection before you sign any paperwork.
Here are the things sellers are required to disclose:
1. Water and Sanitary Systems
Sellers have to disclose any issues with the water pipes for sinks, washing machines, dishwashers, fridges, baths, and showers. They also have to disclose problems with sanitary disposal from toilets. If there are any leaks in the pipes, broken appliances, or septic tank issues, they must disclose those issues.
2. Structural Components
These include the roof, chimneys, basement, floors, and the foundation. Homeowners must disclose any leaks, rot, or cracks, even if they are certain those problems have been resolved. Also, if they have made any changes to the structure of the house (like replacing the roof or taking out a wall), they have to disclose those changes.
3. Electrical and HVAC Systems
Sellers need to report any issues with the electrical system. Faulty wiring can be a fire hazard. Electrical problems are often expensive and take a long time to fix since electricians must usually open up the walls to access the problems. The heating and air conditioning units must also be reported. Serious issues like carbon monoxide poisoning can occur if the systems are not properly maintained.
4. Wood-Destroying Pests
If the home has any termite damage, the sellers need to report it. The same goes for weevils, woodpeckers, and any other pest infestation that may have infiltrated the home.
5. Zoning Laws or Boundary Disputes
The seller must disclose all zoning laws relevant to the home. Also, if there are any boundary disputes with neighbors, like a tree that spills fruit onto the neighbor's yard, the seller must reveal that information.
6. Lead Paint and Other Toxic Materials
Homes built before 1978 often used lead paint. Hopefully, if any people lived in the home, they have already taken care of toxic materials. But if the sellers do know of any toxins like lead, radon, methane, asbestos, or carbon monoxide, they must all be reported.
7. Rental or Lease Agreements
If the property is currently leased or rented to tenants, the sellers must disclose that fact. This is especially important if a tenant refuses to leave or causes damage after an inspection has taken place.
Know Your Rights as a Buyer
If a seller fails to disclose problems with a property and you can prove that they knew about the issue before they sold the property to you, you may be eligible for financial compensation. In many cases, a legal battle will result in a settlement that pays for the repairs to your property and pays your legal bills.
But that doesn't mean you should just trust sellers to know about every problem in your potential new home. Always schedule an inspection before you make an offer on a house. If you do suspect any legal issues, contact a real estate lawyer to aid you in your home buying journey.