Aldrich Goldstein

What happens when a seller doesn't disclose a home defect?

Buying a home is a major investment. Individuals may commit many years of their salary toward the final purchase price of a home. Unfortunately, some people who buy houses find out that they didn't know everything about the property before they made their offer or closed on the home.

People listing their properties for sale have an obligation to provide accurate information about the condition of the property. They do this by filling out a document known as a seller's disclosure. This disclosure has to include all known defects. Sellers should acknowledge all obvious and visible defects with the property, such as broken windows or a leaking roof, as well as latent or hidden defects, such as crumbling mortar in the foundation that may not be obvious on initial inspection.

Sometimes, sellers choose to leave important information off of their disclosure. They do this to ensure that they can get a good price for their property or because they worry that a bank may not approve a mortgage if someone discovers the defect.

Buyers usually have rights with serious property issues

In the event that a seller leaves a major issue off of a disclosure, the buyer can usually take legal action. Anyone from neighbors to contractors in your community may be able to provide evidence and testimony that the homeowner knew about the defect.

For example, a contractor who came out to assess the issue but who didn't wind up hired may still have documentation of the defect. Neighbors may also have discussed the problem with the previous homeowner at some point. If you can show that the seller was aware of the issue prior to listing the property or accepting your offer, you likely have grounds to hold the seller accountable in court.

What about cases without a disclosure?

Occasionally, people buy properties without a seller's disclosure. There are a number of reasons why this could happen. The property in question may be part of an estate. In that scenario, the estate administrator may not know any defects. They may simply fill out the disclosure with all the major categories noted as unknown.

In some cases, they may simply not provide a disclosure and attempt to sell the property as-is. Properties that have been foreclosed on by banks, as well as properties seized for tax sale may also not have accurate sellers' disclosures. Situations without a disclosure or with an as-is purchase are usually much more complicated than standard purchases.

Your best choice in that situation is to sit down with a real estate attorney who understands the laws in Oregon. Reviewing the documentation from your purchase and the issue with your property with a lawyer can help you figure out what options you have moving forward.

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