Street Cents
5:00 am
Tue November 6, 2012

Full disclosure or risk a lawsuit

If you buy a house and shortly after moving in you're surprised to find a big crack in the foundation or the septic tank bubbling over, wouldn't your first question be, "Did the seller know about this?" Seattle-area real estate appraiser Richard Hagar says it's bad news all around if problems are not disclosed before the sale. Surprises like this not only mean headaches for the buyer but more times than not they lead to  lawsuits for the seller and his real estate agent. So, what exactly should a seller disclose?

Richard Hagar tells KPLU's John Maynard that Washington state has some specific requirements for disclosure.

"The laws have undergone changes over the last 10 years, and in different states they have different disclosure laws, but the state of Washington wants you to disclose anything that is adverse to the property."

Hagar says he's often asked to serve as an expert witness in lawsuits involving buyers who didn't know about a problem with a house, they buy it, and then discover that they are facing thousands of dollars in repairs.

"The buyers usually sue for large dollar amounts and in almost every case that I've been involved in, the real estate agent lost and the seller sometimes loses. But the courts are likely to get their pound of flesh for the buyer, one way or the other."

Maynard says he wonders just how far you can stretch the concept of  "problems." He wonders, for example, whether something like neighbors using leaf blowers should be disclosed.

"Those things are so loud, running from morning until dark. Bring back the 12-prong rake!"

Sadly, at least for Maynard, neighbors using leaf blowers do not need to be disclosed. But Hagar says it always helps if a potential buyer hangs around the neighborhood of the home they want to buy. You can pick up a lot, he says, by observing the rhythm of  a place, including when and where your potential neighbors use those pesky leaf blowers.

Street Cents Q&A on property disclosers.