Dear Barry,

The other day, my father mentioned that if he sells his house he will not allow a home inspector on the property. This sounded pretty rash to me. If he forbade a home inspection, what would he be required to disclose? If defects were discovered after the sale, wouldn’t he be liable? –Mary

Dear Mary,

Home inspections have come to be regarded as a reasonable and routine procedure when buying a home. In fact, most real estate purchase contracts specify inspections as a buyer’s option, thereby obligating sellers to accommodate this normal disclosure process. If your father were to refuse a home inspection of his property, he would not only violate that contractual provision but would foster an air of suspicion in the minds of most buyers. Even if he had nothing to hide, his position would appear suspect.

Worse yet would be his legal posture if undisclosed problems were to arise after the close of escrow. Even if he had no prior knowledge of existing defects, who would trust the denials of a seller who had stood in the way of the standard discovery process.

If your father wants to conduct an as-is sale, this can be done without prohibiting a home inspection. In fact, the safest approach would be to hire a home inspector of his own to provide thorough disclosure of defects and to demonstrate that there are no intentions to withhold vital information about the condition of the property.

As to which conditions he, as seller, should disclose, the best practice is to tell all. Anything and everything that could possible warrant concern on the part of a buyer should be fully divulged. This is the best way to avoid liability after the deal is consummated.

Dear Barry,

Our home has an addition, built without a permit before we owned it. Until recently, there were no problems, but lately we’ve noticed settlement cracks in the foundation and a slight sloping of the floor. My husband says this is not a big deal, that most homes in the area have cracks because of the clay soil. If we paint the house and sell it, do you think the small cracks in the foundation would hinder the sale? –Linda

Dear Linda,

In today’s litigious business environment, the last thing you want to do is paint and sell. Foundation cracks and an uneven floor may or may not be signs of serious structural problems. But a definite determination should be made prior to selling the property. If you were to sell the house, and a major foundation problem were later discovered, you could spend three years and large numbers of dollars in needless litigation. The safe and sensible approach is to hire a licensed structural engineer to fully evaluate these conditions. If the cracks and sloping indicate no significant problem, you’ll have engineering documentation to assure buyers and to protect yourselves from future liability. If a serious problem does exist, you’ll be able to disclose it to buyers or have it repaired prior to sale.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.

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