If you plan to purchase real estate in Virginia, you should do your due diligence before you close on the property and you should hire a real estate attorney. Absent outright fraud, sellers are not required to disclose, for example, an ongoing disagreement with a neighbor over the use or location of an easement, or a disagreement over a fence on the neighbor’s property. Nor are the sellers required to volunteer that the field next to the property was just sold to a developer.
Buyers do have some protection through title insurance; however, the best protection is enlisting a real estate attorney to look out for their interests. A buyer’s attorney should review the contract of purchase with them (preferably before they sign), review the title policy exceptions with them, and advise them regarding a survey. Buyers may believe that having their own attorney is an extra expense, but that expense before they close can save much more after closing. Buyers who move from out-of-state, especially from states where home buyers have more protection, are often surprised by Virginia real estate law, which requires the buyers who wish to file a complaint against the sellers after closing to meet a high standard of proof of fraud.
A buyer’s real estate attorney can also add contingencies to the real estate contract of purchase before it is signed to protect the buyer’s interests, such as a home inspection contingency and a study period. During the study period the buyers can, for example, determine whether the zoning allows them to have a home office, whether that field next door can be developed and the maximum number of homes the zoning allows, whether they have adequate wi-fi service if they sometimes work from home, and whether the recent addition to their home had a building permit and was built to code.
A Realtor is Not a Real Estate Attorney
Just because you have a Realtor does not mean you will have all the protection you need. A Realtor, especially one who is a dual agent (meaning they represent both the seller and the buyer), has disclosure rules they have to follow which do not always protect the buyer.
In conclusion, real estate buyers beware! The attorney handling the closing for the sellers or the title company is not your attorney and is not required to know your needs or wishes. The purchase of real estate is a major investment in dollars, in future value for resale and also in your long-term peace at home. Hire your own real estate attorney!
If you are a resident of Winchester, VA, Frederick County, Northern Virginia, or anywhere in between and are looking for an attorney with experience in business law, estate planning, equine law, real estate law, or civil litigation, contact Joan Fine today.