7 signs you can’t trust a house seller


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It pays to be wary when making a huge financial commitment.

Key points

  • A Motivated Home Seller Can Find Smart Ways to Cover Flaws
  • You are responsible for finding out the truth.

We are living in what appears to be the Wild West of the housing markets, with low mortgage rates, outsized selling prices and frantic buyers. If you’re desperate to buy a home, slowing down to determine whether the people selling a home are honest can seem comically out of touch. Who has the luxury of being so picky?

Stay with us here. We’ll explain why it’s important that the people you’re buying from are honest or scoundrels, and go over some ways to spot a dishonest seller.

Why is this important

Anyone who’s ever sold a home knows the importance of showing off the property in its best light. In a nutshell, it means decluttering, depersonalizing, and cleaning up. The idea is to create an environment so pleasant that anyone who walks through the front door can imagine themselves living in the space.

However, there are those sellers who go above and beyond to hide issues that should be addressed, issues that you will inherit if you buy the house. These are the sellers to watch out for.

One of the many benefits of working with a real estate agent is that you have another set of eyes, another person to spot issues that the owner has been trying to cover up. And frankly, the fact that homeowners don’t always disclose all issues is why giving up on a home inspection is such a horrible idea. A qualified home inspector may not pick up on everything that is wrong with a home, but they are likely to spot major problems.

You are Detective Pinkerton

Like the Pinkerton detectives of old, you’ll have to rely on your senses and gut instinct to uncover any potential issues before you bid on a home. Here are some of the many common methods homeowners use to hide things.

1. They don’t disclose potential drainage issues

Let’s say the sun is shining with no clouds in sight and you are visiting a house. The last thing on your mind is what happens to the property when there is a storm. Still, it’s up to you to research exterior drainage issues. Look for cracks in the sidewalk and driveway. Take a look at the fences and retaining walls to see if there is any erosion around these areas. A yard that doesn’t drain properly can lead to big problems. For example, accumulations of water attract all kinds of pests, and improper drainage can lead to cracks in the foundation, which opens up a whole new box of worms.

2. They install a new roof for bad reasons

You see that there is a new roof and you automatically think, “Phew! It’s one less thing I’m going to have to worry about. More than likely, the reason for the new roof was innocent. Maybe there was a storm that damaged the old roof, or it was just time to replace it. Having said that, this is a huge investment that you strive to protect, so it’s worth being wary of. Sometimes a new roof is installed to hide long-term neglect, such as water in the attic, termites, wood rot, or mold. A new roof is a sign that everything from the ceiling to the house needs a close look.

3. They carefully hide the flaws

After looking at enough homes, you realize that everyone has a different definition of “neat and clean,” and it’s just a pleasure to walk into a room that is completely organized. Here’s the sneaky thing about having boxes and other items neatly stacked against the walls: you can’t see what’s behind them. Don’t hesitate to move objects away from the walls and look for cracks that could indicate a structural problem. And if there’s something stacked around a boiler, water heater, or sump pump, put those aside as well. You might not be an HVAC expert, but you can get an idea of ​​how well basic systems are maintained. If the last maintenance sticker on the furnace is 10 years old, it could mean that the owner has performed very little routine maintenance.

4. They paint for all the wrong reasons

This one is tricky, as many homeowners re-coat their homes when it’s time to sell. The scoundrels we’re talking about here, however, paint to hide issues like rotting wood, water damage, or mold. If the exterior or interior of a home has been recently repainted, it’s time to take a closer look.

5. They cover faults

A carpet can hide a multitude of issues, from warped or stained wood floors to broken tiles. If you see a rug when you visit a house, lift it up to see what’s underneath. It may be nothing. But if you have a problem and still want the house, be aware that repairs can come from your bank account.

6. They mask rather than repair

Another sneaky trick some home sellers pull is to use roof sealant to mask leaks around a chimney and vents rather than making necessary repairs. The tricky part is figuring out when the sealant was used correctly to prevent water and air leaks, and when it masks issues that need to be fixed.

7. They forget to mention the things that happen at night

If buying a home in which someone has recently died or even been murdered bothers you, ask your real estate agent. Laws requiring a door-to-door seller to disclose such events vary from state to state. For example, vendors in Alaska and South Dakota must disclose murders or suicides that have taken place in the home in the past year.

California sellers must disclose any deaths that have occurred within the past three years. New Jersey sellers should only disclose a death if it is due to property conditions, such as toxic mold or carbon monoxide. Most states say agents can’t hide the truth if a potential buyer asks for it, but that means you have to ask.

What about paranormal activity? Only four states – New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Minnesota – have laws requiring sellers to disclose paranormal activity to potential buyers. Again, if you want to know, it’s best to ask.

While a good home inspector can’t tell you if a house is haunted, they can investigate every nook and cranny of a house, just to make sure you know what you are buying. No matter how much you want a home, and even if you’re good at spotting problems, think long and hard before giving up the right to inspect.

A historic opportunity to potentially save thousands on your mortgage

There is a good chance that interest rates will not stay at multi-decade lows any longer. That’s why it’s crucial to act today, whether you want to refinance and lower your mortgage payments or are ready to pull the trigger to buy a new home.

Ascent’s in-house mortgage expert recommends this company for finding a low rate – and in fact, he’s used them for refi himself (twice!). Click here to find out more and see your price. While this does not influence our opinions on the products, we do receive compensation from partners whose offers appear here. We are by your side, always. See The Ascent’s full advertiser disclosure here.


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