The subtitle is somewhat redundant. Caveat Emptor is a Latin phrase. A caveat is a warning. The English translation of “caveat” is beware. The phrase “caveat emptor” means “let the buyer beware”. A principle of contract law that puts the onus on the buyer to perform his or her own due diligence. Due diligence meaning that a buyer should always conduct their own research of the condition or suitability of the thing to be purchased.
A lot of us may believe that caveat emptor only applies to used cars or things bought at a garage sale. On the contrary, the principle applies just as much when you purchase a home as when you buy a used car.
Hopefully, one will not “rush in” for as Elvis would croon “only fools do”. A thorough buyer’s attorney should make sure that it is a deliberate process from the signing of the contract through the actual closing of title.
There is a multitude of concerns folks should have when considering a house purchase. No one writing could touch upon them all. Pertaining to the physical condition of a house, here are a few.
First and foremost, you should be aware that practically every contract for the sale of real estate contains a provision wherein it is set forth the house is being sold in “as is” condition. That is fine provided the contract elsewhere provides you with your right to conduct physical inspections. If the contract doesn’t, your attorney should prepare a rider to contract to allow for inspections. Often times if there are such provisions, a good attorney may still see fit to have them modified to provide you with more enhanced protections. This is done during the attorney review period. The attorney review period lasts for three business days but may be less if both parties agree in writing to written modifications to the contract and sign off on them with their respective client’s permission.
Your attorney should order a flood search right off the bat notwithstanding seller representations that it is not in a flood zone. Ramifications of a flood zone are not limited to the physical plant on the property but potentially very high flood insurance premiums.
The “inspections” as they are called most every time include the following aspects: Structural, Electric, Plumbing, Central A/C, Heating, Asbestos/urea formaldehyde insulation, mold, wood destroying insects, radon gas, water seepage through the foundation and up through the basement floor, age of major systems, age of roof, soffits, fascia, roofs/window leaks, masonry (especially of the chimney and steps), pool and pool systems (if applicable).
One of the important concerns should be to address the presence of an in-ground oil tank and over inground tanks both operable and inoperable. Operable tanks must be checked for leaks. Inoperable tanks must be investigated with an eye toward did they ever leak, if so, was it cleaned up and if abandoned in place whether it was properly abandoned in place. By properly, I mean with governmental permits by a licensed contractor and evidence of a final inspection by the municipality’s building inspector. All the documentation requisite to evidence these points should be secured and put in safe keeping in the same way you might put a birth certificate or a Last Will and Testament for example.
As stated, this article is not exhaustive of all the concerns a home purchaser should have but it is meant as a summation of the physical inspections.
By the way, the home appraisal should not be confused with the home inspections.
So always remember - Caveat emptor!
The writer has a law practice in Hasbrouck Heights. He is admitted to practice law in the State of New Jersey, the District of Columbia, the US Federal District Court and the US Army Court of Criminal Appeals. He is a retired Major in the US Army, Judge Advocate General Corps.