Buyer Beware – Seller Disclosure Statement (Form 17) and formal Home Inspections are still no guarantee that your home is in the shape you think it is. Caveat Emptor is Latin for , “Let the buyer beware”. Caveat Emptor is the property law principle that controls the sale of real property after the date of closing. Under the principle, the buyer can’t recover damages from the seller for defects on the property that render the property damaged. The exception is if the seller actively concealed latent defects or otherwise makes material misrepresentations amounting to fraud.
You would think that Washington courts would be a place a buyer could go to receive some kind of compensation when a seller conceals latent defects or makes material misrepresentations that amount to, FRAUD! However, Washington courts have made it increasingly difficult for real estate purchasers to hold sellers liable for misrepresented or concealed defects. Read this recent published opinion by Washington’s Division I Court of Appeals –
“Appelwick, J. — When prospective home-buyers discover evidence of a defect, the buyers must beware. They are on notice of the defect and have a duty to make further inquiries.”
This will shock you as a buyer! – Douglas v. Visser, 2013
Based on the State’s opinion if your home inspection reveals any evidence of defects, you as the buyer must investigate further and you might seriously consider whether to close the transaction. This opinion is very straight forward; you find defects in your home inspection you better investigate further and most likely hire a professional to inspect the item further, because it is up to you the buyer to beware. The seller has almost no liability even if they concealed material facts.
Form 17 Seller Disclosure Statement is not a document that a buyer should hold much stock in. Most times I receive a Form 17 on behalf of a buyer its not even worth the time to read. Most sellers are told to be very honest in filling out the disclosure form, it is in their best interest. However, these forms are not completed, or the use of “don’t know” is so over used the disclosure becomes useless. I get it, I understand that a seller also needs protection in the disclosure process. As a buyer, you should just use this as a guideline. Request for clarification if you see the seller give an answer that concerns you, or if they give no answer at all ask for the answer. Use it to ask questions of the home inspector you hire. Yes, you should always have a home inspection, even with new construction. Should you stop at that? NO! Any item that is found on the home inspection should require more research. You should heed the inspectors notes to contact a professional. Whether it be a licensed electrician, plumber or general contractor they are the professionals and can answer your question with more resolve than a home inspector. Home inspectors really only uncover items then have no real knowledge of the issue.