Buyer Beware... Part 1: Snake Infested Home

Real Estate Sales Representative with Fieldstone Real Estate
This poor, poor couple! They bought their "dream home" only to find out that under their home is a snake den with thousands of snakes. In fact, the home had been on TV even before they'd purchased... and no one told them. I found the story on a social networking site where the question was asked:  "Did the seller have to disclose this to the buyers?"
So, do sellers have to disclose such things?  The answer varies state to state.  In Virginia, the answer may shock you.  In short: NO.  Here, it's "Caveat Emptor" or "Buyer Beware".  You, as the purchaser are required to do your own due diligence and discover defects of the home on your own.  In this case the home was bank owned, so it's very likely that the seller didn't know of the issue.
Real estate agents in Virginia have a heavier burden of disclosure than sellers.  If any agent in the transaction has knowledge of a "material defect" about a property they are required to disclose it.  A material defect is any thing that might impact a buyers decision about purchasing or what to pay for a property....for example thousands of snakes taking up residence under the home.  I am pretty sure that qualifies.
Without relying on someone knowing of the issue and disclosing it, how would the buyers discover this on their own?  I watched the video, and wondered how they didn't notice thousands of snakes sooner... unless perhaps it was colder weather and the snakes were in hibernation.  Assuming that was the case, there were still opportunities:
  • The owners said the water smelled badly.  Didn't they turn on the water in the home before they purchased?  
  • Did they have a government loan to purchase?  If so, many government appraisals require appraisers to inspect the crawl space - where it would have been (hopefully) noticed that there was an infestation.
  • Did they have a home inspection?  A home inspector should have had many opportunities to flag issues - inspecting the crawl space, the smell of the water and likely several other issues.
  • Did they have a well and septic inspection? Water tests?  These are standard in our area, and also provided opportunities for the buyers to learn of the issue.
And what about the real estate agent?  In the video they said their agent had noticed the water smell and put bleach into the water system to try to get rid of the smell.  That made me gasp! 
Homes which have well water and sit vacant for extended periods of time do develop bacteria in the well and the water system... and often bleach is used to "shock" the system and kill the bacteria.  Then the pipes all need to be thoroughly flushed (because drinking bleach can kill you).  That's all normal, but this is NOT the job of a real estate agent.  Ever.
I don't know if that agent was the listing agent or a buyers agent.  Buyers agents have a higher duty to disclose things to the buyers, so it is an added layer of protection.  That may or may not have helped in this case, but I like to think as an experienced buyers agent I would have seen "red flags" that those buyers just didn't see.  If their buyers agent had noticed that smell and attempted to cure it without advising the buyers, that would be a major, major issue.
So what are the take away lessons here:
  • Buying a home is a MAJOR financial transaction and impacts more than just your finances.  This is about your life!
  • In Virginia, remember "Buyer Beware!"  There is very little that a seller is required to disclose, and his agent will only disclose things they have actual knowledge of and that they believe are material defects.
  • Hire good people to competently represent you and look out for your best interests.  This means a hire buyer's agent, a good one, and follow their advice.  Have the home, well and septic inspections and water tests which will be recommended by your agent, and use the professionals they recommend.  Experienced agents have  group of experts they've used before and who they know they can rely on to conduct these tests and others as needed.  These things are not designed to complicate the home buying process or to make it more expensive.  It's to help you.
  • Keep your eyes wide open during a transaction.  Do not become overly emotionally involved in any purchase.  It's better to walk away from a good deal than to be trapped in a bad deal. 

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Faith LaRosse
Springer Realty Group - Limerick, PA
Serving Berks, Chester & Montgomery Counties

Oh all I can think of to say!

Jun 12, 2011 02:59 PM #1
Vicky Chrisner
Fieldstone Real Estate - Leesburg, VA

I know, RIGHT?  I understand this home is CURRENTLY ON THE MARKET IN IDAHO RIGHT NOW!  Yikes, oh, Yikes!

Jun 12, 2011 03:07 PM #2
Susan Emo
Sotheby's International Realty Canada - Brokerage - Kingston, ON
Kingston and the 1000 Islands Area

Oh how I wish I did not watch this right before bed!!!   How does this stuff happen?

Jun 12, 2011 03:16 PM #3
Diane M. Phillips Realtor 443-286-4365
Frankly Real Estate Inc. - Manchester, MD
Specializing in Carroll Co., MD

Vicky ~ My heart breaks for this family. Inspections are a must! My skin is still crawling from this story.

Jun 12, 2011 03:16 PM #4
Kim Carnes
Licensed - Certified Home Inspectors (317) 753-7098 - Indianapolis, IN
Carnes Home Inspections - Indianapolis Metro Area and beyond -

Hi Vicky


From the new guy who is also a home inspector I say preach it....some people just have no idea...many people have no idea what is going really is too least they were garter snakes

Jun 12, 2011 03:41 PM #5
Vicky Chrisner
Fieldstone Real Estate - Leesburg, VA

I will be honest, Kim.... I am not sure that them being garter snakes makes it too much better.  This is terrible.... I can't imagine too many things worse.  And, according to the video the toxin that had likely affected their water quality can make them sick.   The creepiest part of the entire video is the scene where they are laying in bed and can hear the snakes in the walls and ceilings.  I would have left that house then and never been back.  (shudder, shudder, shudder)  But before I filed bankruptsy I would have filed lawsuits against everyone I could think of.  Surely somewhere someone did something wrong.... and a deep pocket would have forked over some money, I am sure.  That's the difference in the mentality here in the DC area compared to the mid west I guess!

Jun 12, 2011 03:57 PM #6
Gina Tufano
Ask Gina & Company with Pearson Smith Realty - Sterling, VA
Ask Gina & Company, Northern Virginia Real Estate

This was such a horrifying story - almost too hard to watch!  It is every buyers nightmare!

Jun 14, 2011 06:47 AM #7
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