Q. Our house is in escrow, but the inspection was delayed because of Hurricane Sandy. I don’t think we had any real damage, except for some leaking that caused a ring on a bedroom ceiling. I am willing to fix the ceiling, but I don’t want to have to replace the roof, which is only 10 years old. Everything seems to have dried out now. Must I disclose the leak, or should I just repaint the ceiling?
A. Attitudes and laws regarding disclosure have shifted over the years. Where once buyers had to assume the responsibility of uncovering defects under the principle of “caveat emptor,” or “buyer beware,” now the reverse can be true. In New Jersey, and most other states, sellers must inform buyers of any known material defects—and that includes balky toilets, broken furnaces, and yes, leaky roofs. The goal is to provide consumers with a realistic idea of the condition of homes, especially regarding items that affect safety or health.
So your duty to disclose defects exists even if you have listed your home in “as-is” condition, and it lasts until you turn over the keys. But there are other reasons to disclose everything you know about the home beyond the legal obligation.
First, it is unlikely that a recent ceiling repainting will escape the attention of a good home inspector, who is always on the lookout for just such cover-ups; but even if he does miss it, he likely will find signs of recent moisture intrusion in your attic. Because a roof leak causes rot and insect infestations, it is far more important that you deal with this issue promptly than the water spot on the bedroom ceiling.