In the history of every house, there are issues – every homeowner and buyer knows that. But when you’re selling your home, what issues do you have to disclose? For example, do you have to reveal the presence of asbestos or black mold?
These problems are serious because they threaten health, and many sellers may worry about liability if their property does end up having asbestos or black mold in the walls, crawlspace, or attic. In what you must reveal, it’s important to know the difference between patent defects and latent defects.
Patent vs. Latent Defects
Patent defects are the glaring flaws in a home that can be seen by those viewing the property or a home inspector. The homeowner can’t cover these up in an attempt to sell the home without the buyer being aware of them. Some examples include cracks and stains and missing parts of the home’s infrastructure (e.g. bannisters, fence posts, etc.). Legally, neither the seller nor the real estate agent is obligated to reveal patent defects, but because these defects are visible anyway, the potential buyer and home inspector will be able to spot them as they walk around.
Latent defects are those that are not going to be visible to the home viewers or the home inspector. This class of defects includes problems of which the homeowner is unaware, and therefore, the seller cannot be held accountable for these. However, latent defects could become serious enough that it would be dangerous enough to prevent occupants of the home from living in it safely.
Asbestos and black mold can both be problems that fall under the latent defect category because many sellers are not aware of these problems. But if the seller does become aware of any latent defects, they are obliged to disclose them or handle them before putting the home on the market.
Asbestos isn’t the common problem it once was, but it’s still an unwelcome surprise in many older properties. Many homes built in the WWII-era used asbestos for insulation, and many other home materials also contained asbestos. The government banned the majority of asbestos products in 1979, but they are evident in buildings built across the country until the early 1990s.
If asbestos is a latent issue – it’s behind walls or in an attic space, the seller has never checked or had reason to check – then there’s nothing to disclose. If it does turn up, the buyer can’t hold the seller liable.
Disclosing Black Mold
Black mold can be harmful to health, and its presence in a home could make it unsafe for occupancy. But it’s also a common latent defect as it loves to grow and spread in dark, moist environments – often the most inaccessible parts of the home. If you do notice this type of mold – sometimes it can grow to such an extent that splotches show up in drywall – it’s best to take care of it yourself rather than reveal it. Most buyers balk at the first mention of mold in a home.
As a seller, you can only disclose what you know. You are not liable for defects if they have no prior knowledge about them. But to protect themselves against lawsuits, a seller should disclose past defects and what they did to rectify them before putting the home on the market.