I wish there was the equivalent of a carfax report for homes. When I bought my last car, a used Infiniti, I knew more about that car than most homeowners will ever know about their homes. From reading the Carfax report, I knew what to expect from the car even before taking it for a test drive. I knew more about this one particular car than most homeowners know about houses they’ve called home for several years. If the homeowner doesn’t know that much, how much less will a home buyer know?
Imagine buying a used car you had never seen before, knew nothing about the manufacturer, were ignorant about the car’s features and could not take it for a test drive. Imagine that the only known facts were the car’s age, the number of seats and the size of the trunk.
That’s pretty much the scenario for home buyers when looking at a “used” home. Home buyers can overcome this knowledge deficit in two ways: the Seller’s Disclosure Statement and the home inspection. Unfortunately, there’s no Carfax report for homes.
The Seller’s Disclosure Statement (“Form 17”) is required in any transaction of improved or unimproved real estate as defined on this Washington State Website. The disclosure is strictly between the seller and the buyer and neither the listing agent nor the buyer’s agent is party to the disclosure.
A few sellers are exempt from having to provide Form 17. These include the estates of a deceased person and the trustee in a bankruptcy sale. Also exempt are bank owned properties that ask a buyer to waive the receipt of Form 17 unless the seller (the bank) has answered “yes” to any answers of the environmental section of the disclosure, which is very unlikely.
Most buyers expect too much from the home inspector.
With or without the seller’s disclosure, the home inspection becomes the home buyer’s last line of defense. When arriving at the property, the inspector knows as much or less about the home than the buyer does. His findings are limited to a visual inspection of the property – what he can see with his own eyes and what instruments tell him, such as the readings of a moisture meter. He will point out signs of mold and listen for drips when turning on the upstairs shower but he is not allowed to open the drywall to examine the possible cause. What he can recommend in his report are additional inspections, such as an environmental or pest inspection. In my role as the buyer’s agent, I will be very careful to remind the buyer of the timeline for all inspections as agreed to in the purchase and sale agreement.
No, there’s no Carfax report for homes.
There is no official system that records the construction of a home, no diagrams for the plumbing and electrical and little documentation for improvements and additions, especially when a permit was not required. Home sellers rarely mislead buyers intentionally. More often they simply pay no attention or are not well informed. It is easier to learn any car’s history, especially when you know the VIN number and can get the Carfax. Unfortunately, there’s no Carfax report for homes.
Carfax is a registered trademark.
First published by Gerhard as his
April 2017 View from the Street Newsletter.