It pays to be honest about your home’s flaws
MAIN IMAGE: Gerhard Kotze, managing director of RealNet estate agency group.
There’s no such thing as a perfect property and buyers know that as well as you do, so when selling your home, you should never give in to the temptation to conceal or be untruthful about any defects or drawbacks that you know about.
Quite apart from the fact that this would be dishonest, it could easily result in a legal dispute that not only wipes out any profit on your sale, but actually leads to a loss, says Gerhard Kotzé, managing director of the RealNet estate agency group.
“At the moment, many estate agents already make use of a defects disclosure form when receiving a mandate to market your property, and the new Property Practitioners Act (PPA) which will shortly come into effect will in fact make it mandatory for all agents to do so.
“It will also make it compulsory for such a document to be included in any sale agreement – which means that there will be no real room for argument in future about what defects you may or may not have disclosed to your agent and/ or the buyer of your property.”
However, he says, it also means that if it is later discovered that you failed to disclose or tried to conceal any patent defects, you could find yourself in big legal trouble. “The buyer – who would understandably feel cheated – could well have a legitimate claim against you for damages or might even decide to lay a charge of fraud.”
Patent defects are the type of problems that you would clearly have known about – for example cracks in a bedroom wall that you decided to wallpaper over rather than disclose.
The other type of defects are latent defects, which you probably did not know about and therefore could not have disclosed to your agent or buyer. An example is a pipe in a wall with a slow leak that gives rise to a mouldy patch in a bathroom several weeks after your buyer has taken transfer of the property.
The PPA also stipulates that when a defects disclosure document is not included in a sale agreement in future, it will then be assumed that you did not disclose any defects at all to your agent or your seller, whether you know about them or not, says Kotzé.
“And what this means is that even if you did point out certain problems verbally, you could still be in trouble – without any documentary evidence to prove that you did try to be honest about your home’s flaws.
“In short then, your best course of action is to appoint a qualified, professional estate agent to market and sell your property, and then be as honest as possible about any problems you are aware of, from roof leaks to a non-functioning pool pump.
“An experienced agent will be able to distinguish between serious and small defects – and assess the viability of rectifying certain problems before selling. Sometimes it is possible to add many thousands of rands to the value of a home by spending relatively little.”
In addition, he says, enabling your agent to make full disclosure of any known defects to potential buyers is actually likely to make those buyers more amenable to meeting your asking price. They will reason that there are unlikely to be any nasty surprises in store – or any repair costs they have not already allowed for.
“And while you might end up selling for a little less than you initially expected, the reduction will in all likelihood be far less than the costs of a legal battle if your buyers should later decide they have been deliberately misled and sue you for damages.”