Whether you admit it or not, buying a home is a stressful endeavor. Even if you HAVE purchased a home before, the process can be somewhat nerve-wracking and overwhelming. Taking time out of your already busy schedule to search and visit homes, as well as applying for a mortgage can make life hectic. So, who needs the added worry that the home seller and/or listing agent is trying to hide something from you?
Maryland requires the home seller to disclose any known latent defects, regardless of whether they are choosing the disclosure or disclaimer option. To be clear, the Maryland Real Estate Commission’s Residential Property Disclosure and Disclaimer Statement states that a seller must disclose “Material defects in real property or an improvement to real property that: (1) A purchaser would not reasonably be expected to ascertain or observe by a careful visual inspection of the real property; and (2) Would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of (purchaser and/or occupant).” Regardless, there is still a “buyer beware” atmosphere.
How can you proceed confidently with your home purchase if there is a sense of distrust? The concept of “trust and verify” can help. The concept is about taking disclosures at face value and exercising due diligence. To the best of your ability, confirm the accuracy of what is disclosed, as well as investigate any areas of concern. Many items can be verified online, or by calling the locality where the house is located.
Of course, you should always conduct a home inspection. However, prior to hiring your home inspector, ask about their scope and limitations of the inspection. Home inspectors are considered generalists, such that they are not typically an expert in any aspect of home construction, or the home’s structure and systems. However, they are trained to identify potential common problems. They will also recommend that you consult an expert for further information on anything that is outside the scope of the inspection. And although home inspector licensing laws prescribes minimum inspection standards, there is no guarantee that everything will be inspected thoroughly beyond a visual inspection (e.g., chimney or pool). Make sure your inspector meets your expectations so as to thoroughly inspect all systems of the home.
If the home was expanded, verify that additions and/or modifications to the home were permitted by the local jurisdiction. Unpermitted additions can create a number of issues, including having your lender deny your mortgage. It is not uncommon for additions/modified items (such as a deck, and even electrical improvements) in a home to go unpermitted. This is usually because the homeowner did it themselves, or hired a contractor who cut the corner of getting a permit. The permitting process certifies that repairs/renovations comply with local building and zoning codes. Making sure any addition or home expansion was permitted and passed final inspection gives peace of mind that the completed project meets local building health and safety standards.
There are many other aspects of the home which can be verified, including (but not limited to) schools and zoning. If you’re buying a home to go to a specific public school, verify that the house is within the school’s boundaries and if there are plans to redistrict. If you plan to have an Airbnb in your home, make sure the house is appropriately zoned. You should also check zoning and the local planning office to make sure your potential building/addition plans are not restricted.
Dan Krell is a Realtor® with RE/MAX Success in Potomac, MD. You can access more information at www.DanKrell.com