New Law Is Two Years Too Late
January 9, 2003
A new law that just went into effect on January 1, 2003 in South Carolina requires home sellers to disclose any problems to potential buyers. I only wish this law was on the books two years ago when I bought my home in Spartanburg, SC!
This new law was written by state Rep. Chip Huggins (R-Lexington) who is an experienced real estate agent. He believes the law, which requires sellers to complete a 4-page disclosure statement about their property before placing it on the market to sell, has been sorely needed to protect home buyers from getting stuck with a “lemon.” Unfortunately, my wife and I have learned the hard way what that is all about!
Under this new law, a home owner who purposefully and knowingly fails to release any information to a home buyer about problems associated with their home would be forced to pay to have the damages fixed as well as any court costs involved. Real estate agents all across the state must be jumping for joy at this new law because it takes the pressure and responsibility off of them and puts it right back on the seller where it belongs.
Too bad this property disclosure law was not in effect in January 2001. Then I would have a good case against the person who sold me my home in February 2001.
Several months ago, we noticed some cracks in the ceiling of our living room and kitchen. At the same time, portions of our kitchen floor have been showing signs of shifting. Our house is literally beginning to fall apart on us!
Over the past few months, those cracks in the ceiling have gotten progressively worse. In fact, our kitchen ceiling began leaking through the overhead light every time it rained beginning in October! We were concerned about the potential fire hazard and electric shock that would emanate from this. Thankfully, a friend from church was kind enough to plug the leak we had in our roof around the chimney in December. But the water damage and cracks still remain to this day.
When we attempted to file a claim on our homeowner’s insurance, they have been hesitant to fix the problems since the damage was supposedly caused by what they called the “cover-up” done by the home seller. Because this house was the first one we have ever purchased, we were unaware of the things to look for regarding buying a home. We are still trying to work with the insurance company about getting the problems with the house fixed. This has been a four-month hassle for us that is not even close to being resolved.
Rep. Huggins, is it too late to make this new law retroactive a couple of years? :-)
The new law requires home sellers to fill out a disclosure form. It was developed by the South Carolina Real Estate Commission to help prevent home buyers from being stuck with a bad home (like we were!). Because of their experience with selling homes, the commission made sure the questions were extremely thorough. For example, there are questions that ask about the kind of smells in the home as well as any foreclosures.
On the disclosure form, home sellers have three choices for each question: “yes,” “no” or “no representation.” “No representation” means that the seller makes no comment regarding the condition of that part of the disclosure statement. Although it may seem like a safeguard against liability, a seller cannot use the “no representation” answer to protect themselves if problems arise later for the home buyer.
Most attorneys and real estate experts recommend that home sellers hire a home inspector to make sure nothing is missed. Although a home inspection will cost the home seller $200-$400, it is a solid investment that may save him a lot of money down the road. In hindsight, I wish I had done that as a home buyer two years ago!
South Carolina now becomes the thirty-third state with a property-condition disclosure law on the books. However, not everyone is pleased with this new law. Some people believe it places too much burden on the home seller.
After all, if a home seller honestly discloses every problem he is aware of and then a problem is found by the buyer, what is the liability of the home seller? I guess the answer to that question is that the home seller needs to be absolutely certain that he has gone over every minute detail with a fine tooth comb before putting his home on the market. Even still, it is virtually impossible to be 100% accurate. But, if there is a problem with the home as a result of the previous owners, then it should be the responsibility of the previous owner to make sure the problem is taken care of.
At the same time, this new law will prevent unscrupulous home sellers from covering up problems that will rear their ugly head a couple of years later. That is what we are having to put up with. We are seriously considering hiring an attorney to see what kind of compensation we could receive from the previous owners because of the major problems they attempted to hide from us.
Now that this new disclosure law is in effect in South Carolina, I believe we have firm legal footing and precedent to pursue this in the courts. After all, if the law is good in 2003, then would it not have been good in 2001? ;-) All kidding aside, thanks to this new law, future home buyers will not be forced to endure the turmoil that we have been through this year!