It Was Like This When I Bought It

By Ron Wynn

February 23, 2021 3 min read

Real estate dialogue is never black and white. The good news is you are only obligated to disclose what you know, and you are not obligated to explain the cause of a problem if you are not specifically knowledgeable. As a homeowner, don't make assumptions or conclusions unless you are qualified. However, do disclose the following:

1. Anything disclosed to you by a prior owner.

2. Any problems that you have either successfully or unsuccessfully attempted to rectify.

3. Answers to all questions on your state residential real estate disclosure forms and seller property questionnaires.

4. Anything that you believe could make your property less desirable, less valuable or nonconforming in the eyes of a buyer. An example might be a next-door neighbor who continuously screams at her children to the point where you can hear it from your yard.

I've often had an owner ask, "Do I need to disclose that the patio was enclosed by a prior owner without a permit?" If you are aware, you must disclose it, even if it was done by an owner 20 years ago. If you don't know it as a fact, then say, "It may have been without a permit, and it may not have been done to code." If you have no knowledge at all, then it is reasonable to say nothing. Keep in mind that codes are always changing and many improvements made 10 years ago, with or without permit, may not meet current codes. I have even stated this as a boilerplate point in cases where funky home additions were made. The fact that something was done by a prior owner is immaterial. If you have no idea whether a part of your home meets current codes or not, then state that in simple words.

Another example may be a neighbor telling you that your fence in encroaching 3 inches on his property. Say you never had a survey to verify the validity of his statement. Simply say that the neighbor has called this to your attention but it has not been verified. A buyer could then choose to further investigate.

Perhaps you purchase a home and you learn from a neighbor that a child drowned in the pool three years ago, before you purchased it. If it were me, I would disclose it. Your future buyer could obtain proof that you had that knowledge and go to court, claiming they are superstitious and would not have purchased the house had they known.

When in doubt, always disclose.

For more information, please call Ron Wynn at 310-963-9944, or email him at [email protected] To find out more about Ron and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at

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