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Buying a House: What to Do When the Seller Fails to Disclose Latent Defects or Covers Them Up

Purchasing a house is one of the most significant investments an individual can make. Consequently, a buyer places a lot of trust in the seller's integrity. Sellers, in most jurisdictions, have a duty to disclose known defects. However, what happens when a seller deliberately conceals latent defects or simply fails to disclose them?

The Duty to Disclose in Florida

Florida case law is instructive on the matter. It provides that, barring a few exceptions, a residential home seller must disclose any facts or conditions about the property that significantly impact its value or desirability and that are not easily observable by potential buyers. This foundational principle arises from the court case of Johnson v. Davis, 480 So. where the court articulated this duty. The rationale is that buyers rely on the sellers' disclosures, or lack thereof when making purchasing decisions.

Consequences of Non-disclosure

What can a buyer do if they later discover defects that the seller failed to disclose? As a preliminary step, the buyer should consult with professionals to assess the extent and cost of the defect. An expert's opinion can help solidify a claim that the seller should have known about the defect.

If you uncover signs that the seller intentionally hid issues or discover defects that the seller should have unmistakably been aware of, the seller might be held legally responsible for covering the repair expenses or compensating you for damages stemming from those defects. This indicates that the mere existence of a defect is not enough; there needs to be evidence that the seller was aware of it, or in some cases, that it was so obvious that they couldn't have missed it.

Steps to Take When You Discover a Concealed Defect

  1. Document Everything: As soon as you notice a defect, document it. Photographs, videos, and written descriptions can be invaluable.

  2. Hire Professionals: Engage contractors or other experts to estimate the cost of repair and provide their opinion on whether the defect would have been apparent to the seller.

  3. Consult an Attorney: Seek advice from an attorney who specializes in real estate litigation. They can advise on the strength of your case and the best path forward.

  4. Contact the Seller: Before taking legal action, reach out to the seller. They may be unaware of the defect, or they might be willing to work with you to resolve the issue without resorting to litigation.

  5. Consider Mediation: If you cannot reach an agreement, mediation can be a cost-effective alternative to litigation.

  6. Pursue Legal Action: If all else fails, and you believe you have a strong case, you may decide to sue the seller for damages.

While purchasing a home should be a joyful experience, the discovery of undisclosed defects can cast a shadow on the process. Knowing your rights and the legal avenues available can be the key to rectifying an unfavorable situation. Always seek legal counsel when dealing with real estate disputes, as every situation has unique facts and applicable laws. If you just bought a home and you are having issues like this, you'd 'Better Call Beck!'


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