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For years, the phrase "Caveat emptor!" was popular in real estate. Latin for "Let the buyer beware!", it was meant to forewarn buyers that responsibility for making a satisfactory purchase rested in their hands.
During the many years that phrase was used, it was intended to alert buyers that they alone bore the burden of discovering negatives like construction defects, property line disputes, wet basements, and other equally undesirable, yet not readily evident, situations which could cause them great anguish.
Times have changed. With the advent of consumer protection, new responsibilities have been placed on sellers and real estate agents. Property owners are generally required to disclose defects, both obvious and latent, that are present in their home.
The owners' knowledge of a wet basement, structural settling or uncorrected damage to rafters from a leaking roof should all be disclosed up front to prospective buyers. When sellers list their home, that information is normally itemized in the listing agreement, and disclosed to buyers before a purchase agreement is signed.
Regardless of the improving disclosure climate however, buyers should still take steps to protect their interests when making a purchase. First, ask questions. When inspecting a property, ask the agent and the owner about construction flaws, defects and other situations which could have a negative impact on the property's value, if purchased.
Ask about proposed zoning changes, new development in the area and proposed changes in roads and highways which could affect the property. Listen carefully to answers and make notes when appropriate.
Although sellers, agents and others may be obligated to disclose adverse situations, the best insurance buyers can acquire is a thorough knowledge of a property's condition and its potential for future increases in value. As a buyer, take steps to be informed before making a purchase.