Virginia's Disclosure Act Doesn't Really Protect Buyers

by Aimee Kniceley-Barnes 03/07/2021

Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash

When you find your dream home for a great price, you sometimes have to wonder why the price is so low. While you can rely on a buyer's agent – the agent who represents you – for some information, the agent can only tell you what they know. The listing agent represents the seller and is not obligated to tell you certain things about the property. Thus, regardless of whether the listing agent or your agent is showing you the property, you should always do due diligence – research the property and hire inspectors yourself.

Knowledge

Even if the listing agent is obligated to tell you something, if the listing agent does not know of that problem, they cannot tell you. While Virginia law requires the listing agent to tell you or your agent of any physical problems with the house, the listing agent cannot tell you what they don't know. For example, if the roof leaks and there is no evidence that it leaks because the seller hid evidence of it and did not tell the listing agent, you cannot hold the listing agent responsible for that omission, unless you can prove that the listing agent had knowledge of the leak.

However, the listing agent is only obligated to tell you about problems with the physical condition of the property. The agent is not obligated to tell you certain things, such as a murder that took place on the property, or that an elderly owner died in the house. The listing agent is also not obligated to tell you about traffic problems that might affect the property or other issues that could affect the location of the property, as long as those issues do not affect the physical condition of the property.

For example, if you look at a property during any time school is out, and a school is located a few blocks away, the agent is not obligated to tell you that traffic backs up in front of your house every morning and evening when parents are dropping off and picking up students.

Is the Seller Really Honest?

In some cases, the seller might not tell the agent about physical problems with the property. However, you can't assume that the seller knew about the problems. Some issues, such as an electrical problem that could cause a fire, could be well hidden from sight. It's possible that the seller did not use the outlets in that area because they were not needed. The seller would not have any idea that the circuit was not working.

However, if the agent notices a problem that the seller does not disclose, either because the seller doesn't think it's a significant problem or the seller did not realize there was a problem, the agent has a duty to disclose the issue. For example, if the seller never noticed a water stain on the ceiling in a closet, they would not have known of a roof leak. But if the listing agent notices it, they must disclose that there might be an issue with the roof leaking.

When buying a house, even if the house looks perfect, it is up to the buyer to hire the proper inspectors to learn everything possible about the structural condition of the property.

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Aimee Kniceley-Barnes

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