If you’ve ever bought or sold a home, chances are you know a little bit about the disclosure process. Basically, it works like this: the seller provides the buyer with material information about the home, details that might affect the buyer’s gusto to purchase it in the first place.
For example, a seller might disclose that there’s lead paint in the bathroom or leaky pipes in the basement, or that the home was built on a recently active supervolcano. The idea is to keep the sale in good faith. Or, to put it another way, if you don’t want a fetid magma jacuzzi in your backyard, you should at least know about it up front.
In other words, disclosures are important. They keep the sale honest. But that’s not to say you learn everything about a property from a true and legal disclosure. In fact, here are five disclosures that sellers didn’t make—that they probably should have.
Warning: Home May Smell Lightly of Methamphetamines
Picture this: you’re the breadwinner for a young family. You and your spouse are expecting a baby, and you find a foreclosure in a great neighborhood. You pony up a down payment and sign the papers. Then, six months later, you lose your job because you test positive for methamphetamines.
Do you remember doing meth? I mean, there was that time you high-fived Bryan Cranston, but that probably didn’t do it. So what was it?
Turns out, you bought a meth lab. In fact, lots of people buy meth labs. There’s a website called methlabhomes.com that specializes in helping unsuspecting owners of erstwhile drug hovels get the help they need. As they note, in many states, there’s no law forcing a seller from noting that the home in question was used to cook meth. Owning a former meth lab can have serious health effects, as well as being patently disgusting. If you’re buying a foreclosure, or if the price looks too good to be true, ask your realtor why. Also, talk to the neighbors. They might not know it was a meth lab, but they’ll know about the peculiar smells that came from the property, and the fact that most of the adult tenants had a distressing lack of teeth.
Insulation May Be More Valuable Than the Home Itself
David Gonzalez buys and remodels homes. He’s one of those construction types capable of buying a fixer-upper and actually fixing it up, then turning a tidy property on the thing. So when he started renovations on the house he’d recently purchased $10,100, he was expecting that what he put into the house to be more valuable than what he took out.
He was wrong.
There, in the insulation of the Minnesota townhouse, was the most valuable comic book ever printed: Action Comics #1, also known as the first appearance of Superman. It wasn’t in the best shape, as it’d spent God knows how long jammed in a wall, but Gonzalez has put the book on the market. As of this writing, it’s going for $137,000.
The moral: not every lack of disclosure is a bad thing. You never know when you’ll find a book about an alien with a fondness for Spandex that’s worth 14 times what your house is.
6 bedroom, 2 bath, 3 ghosts
You’ve probably never heard of Stambovsky v. Ackley. After all, it doesn’t have the historical weight of Roe v. Wade or Bush v. Gore or Brown v. The Board of Education. Then again, none of those cases contain the words “poltergeist” or “hobgoblin” either.
Here’s what happened:
Helen Ackley and her family lived in a modest home Nyack, New York for decades before putting it on the market. A man named Jeffrey Stambovsky was taken by the property and put down $32,500 to secure the sale. It was only then that Stambovsky came to learn of the property’s peculiar history: namely, it was a haunted house.
Ackley, for her part, never disclosed that she was woken up each morning by a ghost shaking her bed or that her children received mysterious gifts that subsequently vanished without a trace. Her story appeared in Reader’s Digest and her local paper. Stambovsky, suffice it to say, wasn’t keen about living in a house with oodles of ghouls, so he attempted to back out. Charges were filed. Lawsuits were litigated. Stambovsky lost.
While “haunted house” isn’t a term that’s particularly well-litigated, the court found that since Ackley had put the house’s checkered paranormal history on record, she had de facto disclosed that the house was haunted and, therefore, could not deny at a later date it was haunted. Moreover, having done so, Ackley had a duty to disclose the house’s haunted-ness to would-be buyers.
Which is to say this: the house had a reputation. It was stigmatized. And sellers are under an obligation to disclose this fact. After all, it’s important to know if Voldemort was hanging out in your cellar.
Home Owners Association May Be Suffering From Willful and Terrifying Idiocy
Originally, Home Owners Associations (known as HOAs) were created to raise funds for the neighborhood. A suburban HOA might collect yearly or monthly fees from the community to organize a cleanup effort or neighborhood watch. They are, at least in theory, a good idea.
Just not for Lisa Jensen.
Jensen hung a peace symbol wreath on her front porch for the holiday season. Just a simple thing, probably exactly what you’re picturing. But the HOA that oversaw her Colorado suburb had a different view.
“The peace sign has a lot of negativity associated with it,” association president Bob Kearns said. “It’s also an anti-Christ sign.”
Which makes a lot of sense as long as you don’t think about it at all.
They sent the Jensen’s a notice to take down the nefarious symbol of war-less unity or else pay $25 a day. And sad as it is, the Jensens’ story isn’t unique. HOA horror stories are as numerous as the day is long. If you’re heading into a new community, ask the neighbors if they would describe their HOA as “excellent” or “bordering on clinically insane.”
Warning: House May Contain One or More Wallets
Above, we brought you the story of David Gonzalez, he who found Superman among his insulation and made a pretty penny more or less by accident. But finding things—valuable things at that—isn’t as rare an occurrence as you’d guess.
As it turns out, finding a wallet in your new home is pretty commonplace. They’re found between roof shingles, under loose floorboards, behind sheds in the garden. In fact, when Jon Mooallem from Slate set up a Google alert for “wallet found,” he became jaded by the sheer breadth and number of these stories. And that trend shows no sign of abating either.
Which is to say: when you’re moving in, check those nooks and examine those crannies. You never know what you might find. Well actually, you’ll probably find an old wallet, but old wallets are pretty tremendous. Beats finding an ancient Indian burial ground, at least.