Oct 26, 2021 • FindLaw Staff; FINDLAW/BLOGS/LAW AND DAILY LIFE

Horrible Things Home Sellers Do – But Are They Legal?

You always hope for honest sellers and an exciting transition into your new home. But the list of possible schemes or fraud committed by home sellers, buyers, real estate agents, and others in the industry is endless.

Adding Fake Logos to Appliances

Yes, this actually happens. You can buy luxury brand logos from sellers like Amazon. These metal emblems for brands like Viking Professional or Sub-Zero can stick to any appliance and cover old logos.

This is a form of fraud, but it can be hard to nail down who committed it. Was it the current seller or a previous homeowner? You can try looking back through listing pictures to narrow down when the logo swap happened, but this can be time-consuming and difficult. And it probably won’t help you if a previous homeowner did the deed rather than the current seller.

You can always call a local attorney or speak to your realtor about the issue before you close or soon after you close. However, if it has been years since you bought the home, your best bet is to contact an attorney.

Swapping Out Appliances, Lights, and More Between Final Walkthrough and Closing

Some buyers might do their walkthrough of an updated, styled home, but find a whole different look when they close. Sellers have been known to swap out everything from appliances to drawer knobs to window treatments and take the updated items.

This seems wrong, but it isn’t always unlawful. Generally speaking, if the items are specifically listed in the contract as part of the sale, the sellers can’t take them. But the rules vary by state. So always be careful with your contract (which may focus more on the fixtures — the things attached to the home — instead of things you can take). And a good practice is to set the walkthrough as close to the actual closing as possible, within hours if you can. That way you can be more sure about what you are actually getting.

When Unexpected Changes Are Dangerous or Illegal

Some changes made by the seller are dangerous and even illegal. This is rare, but it still happens. It can create a serious legal issue if a change:

  • Was done with “malicious intent”
  • Affects your health
  • Affects the integrity or structure of the home

Although most states require a seller to identify all material defects (such as mold or structural damage), not every seller complies. And home inspectors typically don’t move a seller’s possessions, so it is easy to block certain critical issues from view.

Any Changes to an ‘As Is’ Home

Keep in mind that “caveat emptor” laws, typically called “sold as seen,” “as is,” or “buyer beware” laws, generally have exclusions for deliberate misrepresentation.

Always check your contract to see if it included specific items in the home property disclosure. These contracts focus on the value of the home and not items that aren’t anchored to the house, so this might mean you don’t have a case to get money back.

If something in your new home feels fishy, it is best to go through a lawyer and not contact the sellers directly. Blind accusations or demanding money can create more trouble for you, whereas an attorney can handle things correctly and professionally. Some real estate attorneys offer a free phone call about the issue, which can help you get some answers fast and free.

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