Imagine buying your dream home, moving in, and then discovering a shocking secret lies within that no one bothered to reveal to you before closing. It happens more often than you might think! Inspectionsand seller disclosures are part and parcel of the journey toward closing on a home, but sometimes things slip through the cracks—or just aren’t covered by disclosure requirements.
What sorts of things, you ask? We tapped real buyers for stories about the craziest things they learned about their homes after the sale had closed. From a snake breeding ground to a secret well, here’s what they said—and what the laws say about whether or not the seller should have spoken up.
Snakes in the garage
Nyssa Calkin figured she knew the house she was buying pretty well. After all, it was just a quarter-mile from the house where she grew up in Callicoon, NY. But after seven months in her new home, she had a slithery surprise knocking at her door.
“We have a snake nursery in our basement and garage,” Calkin says. “Every August/September, we are picking up dozens and dozens of baby garter, ringneck, and Eastern milk snakes to put outside. My 10-year-old daughter tries to talk me into keeping every single one of them!”
Did the seller have to disclose this? According to Aaron Hendon, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Realty in Seattle, if the seller knew about the snakes, it should have been shared.
“If there are defects the seller knows about, they will likely put themselves in legal jeopardy down the road by withholding that information,” Hendon says.
Pests—whether they’re snakes, termites, roaches, or other creepy-crawlies—typically fall under the definition of a defect.
Someone died there
Hannah Murphy couldn’t figure out why her home had been sitting on the market for six months before she bought it, but the Columbia, TN, resident thinks she understands now.
“We found out the woman living there before us died in the basement,” Murphy says. “She fell down the stairs and broke her neck, and her daughter found her the next day. We had no idea until our friend—who knew the woman’s daughter—told us after he came to our new house for the first time.”
Murphy and her husband found the story sad, but said it wouldn’t have changed their mind about buying.
“It didn’t bother me much because there was nothing sinister that had happened,” she says.
Did the seller have to disclose this? Believe it or not, a death in the home is not always something sellers have to share as laws vary by state, Hendon says. In fact, only a few states require the seller to disclose a death in the home, and most have a limit on the time frame. In California, for example, a seller needs to share information about a death that occurred only within the past three years.
Hidden wishing well
When Vanessa Reeves and her husband moved into their Narrowsburg, NY, house, they knew there was a Sheetrock wall in the basement. What they didn’t realize was that there was something behind it.
“A couple of months after we moved in, the Sheetrock started crumbling, and our very own wishing well was exposed,” Reeves says. “It’s a gorgeous, hand-laid, 6-foot-wide-by-9-feet-deep well; fresh, crystal-clear, cold water right at my fingertips all year round!”
Did the seller have to disclose this? Material facts about the property are supposed to be shared as part of the disclosure process, Hendon says, and a secret wishing well in a hidden room could have actually been a bonus to lure buyers.
Unbeknown to Jill Wiener, the barn on her property had a criminal history.
“My barn was cocaine headquarters—manufacturing and such,” Wiener says of one of the outbuildings that came with her old farmhouse in Callicoon Center, NY.
“The story, as I can piece it together, is that the house was rented out by the previous owners to people from Colombia, and they were processing cocaine in my barn. The FBI tracked a shipment of ether (which is used in the manufacturing process) from California to a remote location down a long driveway in upstate New York. They set up shop in a shell of a house up the hill and across the road.”
Should the seller have disclosed this? The laws on crime disclosures vary by state, Hendon says. In Oregon, for example, if a home was once a drug lab, it can be sold only with full disclosure. Courts in Pennsylvania, on the other hand, have ruled that sellers don’t have to disclose any crime that occurred on the property.
Jeanne Sager has strung words together for the New York Times, Vice, and more. She writes and photographs people from her home in upstate New York. Follow @JeanneSager