Sellers in Wisconsin have a duty to disclose material facts regarding the sale of their house. In particular, they must tell potential buyers of any known defects. The way most sellers handle this situation is the completion of a Real Estate Condition Report. On this checklist, the sellers declare any and all problems with the house. The buyer has a right to rely on this condition report in determining whether the house has any defects.
An additional source of information is the MLS sheet. This sheet informs buyers of various facts and statistics surrounding the house. Buyers have a right to rely on the facts and data contained in the MLS sheet.
Sometimes sellers believe they can eliminate their liability by selling their house “as is.” While under certain circumstances this may provide some protection, selling a house in “as is” condition does not allow a seller to make false misrepresentations.
A difficult situation often arises where a home seller makes partial disclosures. These are half-truths partially identifying a problem or greatly minimizing it. A seller of a home may disclose occasional, slight seepage in the basement. The buyer may buy the house and find out that the basement regularly floods. Lawsuits based upon partial disclosure are very difficult.
Another form of misrepresentation is active concealment of the defect. Sometimes home sellers fill in serious cracks in the basement wall and paint them over, hoping the buyer won’t notice the problem. This act is a misrepresentation by concealment, in and of itself.
An important factor in determining whether a home buyer has a claim against the seller is the length of time the buyer lives in the house before discovering the defects. If the defect is discovered within a month or two after purchase, there is a strong likelihood the seller knew about it. If the defect is not discovered until several years later, proof of knowledge is more difficult.
Another good indicator as to whether the seller was aware of a particular problem is the frequency with which the problem occurs. If a new home buyer experiences water in the basement once every two or three years, it may be difficult to prove that the sellers knew about it. If the new buyer experiences water in the basement ten times a year or during every heavy rain, there is a strong likelihood that the sellers were aware of it.