Caveat Emptor: When Buying a Home, Remember Your Latin

Are you planning on buying a new home in Virginia? You probably know you should be careful about buying a money pit that has more serious defects than you can list on one hand. But did you know that it is your duty as the buyer to find those defects, rather than it is the duty of the seller to tell you about them?

The Legal Concept of Caveat Emptor

In Virginia, buyers are expected to be wary of anything they purchase, including and especially large purchases like real estate property. “Caveat emptor” is Latin for “buyer beware,” and it applies to real estate transactions.

When you are shopping around for a new home or another type of real estate property, the expectation is that you will do your homework by researching the property and looking for problems. Since you are probably not an appraiser yourself, you should hire a third-party home inspector to investigate any property you are keen on purchasing. Any honest seller should not be worried about you sending out an inspector before you sign any final contracts because they should have nothing to hide, right?

Still, the bottom line is you have to take the initiative to find any defects with the property before you buy it. Once you are the official owner of a home, any defects you discover after the fact are your problem, not that of the seller—in most situations, anyway.

When Deception Overrides Caveat Emptor

Just as you have a duty to yourself to inspect a home before buying it, the seller has a duty to tell the truth. They do not need to openly tell you about any defects, like a bathroom drain prone to clogging, but they can’t lie about it. In other words, if you ask a seller directly about problems with the property, then they need to be truthful. Otherwise, any defects you find after you buy your new property could be placed on the shoulders of the seller due to their fraudulent behavior.

Being misleading and deceptive can also constitute fraud and put the liability for defects on the seller. That is to say, a seller doesn’t need to directly and blatantly lie to you for there to be a legal issue. If they intentionally take steps to hide a property defect from you, then a court might see that as a form of fraud.

For example, imagine you are buying a home in the summer and it oddly has Christmas decorations on the roof when you visit it. After buying the house and all of the original owner’s property is removed, you discover the tiling on the roof is significantly damaged. Only, you never knew about the damage because the holiday decorations had been blocking it from your sight. If you can prove the seller was deliberate with their decoration placement, then you might be able to hold them accountable for the costs of fixing the roof.

Heath, Overybey, Verser & Old, P.L.C. is a law firm in Newport News that handles all sorts of real estate litigation cases. If you were deceived by a property seller in Virginia and want to hold them accountable, call (888) 599-4090 to connect with our lawyers today.

For more information about "caveat emptor" in real estate law, head over to to read Attorney Joseph Verser's article "When buying a house, buyer beware (That's the law)".

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