By Will McCullough
I was enjoying a little down time at the beach with Deena and the kids the other day when I watched a small group of children, walking a bit ahead of their father, discover a partially submerged animal in the surf. One child suddenly shouted, “It’s a stingray!” and they all began taking turns gently poking it with their toes (having obviously never heard of Steve Irwin).
“Guys, that’s not a stingray, it’s a turtle,” dad stated as he approached. Hearing the trusted voice of authority’s ruling was all they needed and the kids took up the chant of “it’s a turtle, it’s a turtle” as they left the creature behind and continued on their way. That was about a week ago and, by now, I’m sure those kids are home from their great Beaufort vacation and happily telling their friends how they even saw a sea turtle at the beach. I think it’s amazing that we live in a place where that can happen but, in this case, it actually didn’t. The critter in question was neither a stingray nor a turtle. It was a dead horseshoe crab.
It isn’t unusual in life to discover that something initially stated as a fact by an authority on the subject turns out to be incorrect. When this happens in real estate, the results can range from “slightly disappointing” to “fiscally disastrous.” When purchasing a local property, it’s wise to keep in mind that much of the information shared with you has been provided to your agent by third party sources and there are many topics that you should consider having independently verified. Luckily, real estate transactions contain many checks and balances that allow a buyer to do exactly that. Below please find a few of the scenarios where it might be prudent to “believe but verify.”
Property lines: While your agent can likely give you a good general idea where the borders of a property are, I highly recommend that you consider having your own independent survey done before a closing. Keep in mind that your agent is relying upon information from the listing agent that they in turn got from the seller that they may have gotten from the seller before them. Sometimes, especially in newer subdivisions, there may be a current survey on file but, when in doubt, have a professional stake it out.
Covenants, rules and restrictions: If you are purchasing in a neighborhood with covenants, rules and restrictions, make sure you carefully read and understand them before you close. Many buyers have discovered that they could not park their boat in their driveway, use Christmas lights other than white, that privacy fences were not allowed, etc., until it was too late. A good understanding of your future neighborhood’s covenants can bring to light issues that you may not have even considered issues before reading.
Permits: Many move to the Beaufort area dreaming of having a private dock on their property. However, building a dock requires a permit and any given property may either be allowed or not allowed a dock permit based on a wide range of criteria. Conversely, while I’ve never known anyone who dreamed of owning a septic tank, I have known of a few who found out that not being able to get a permit for one was a nightmare. As a general rule, insist on seeing current copies of applicable permits or that your contract being contingent on your ability to get them before you close.
Repairs: If you are buying a local home, you’ll likely be having both a home inspection and a CL100 (termite) inspection. There’s a good chance that these inspections will uncover a few items that need repaired and the seller will probably agree to make some repairs. A buyer should ensure that the seller provide them with paperwork from licensed professionals documenting that the repairs were made. In addition, most local home inspectors offer a free re-inspection and a buyer should always consider requesting that their inspector return to the property to ensure that issues were addressed correctly.
In local real estate transactions, buyers will often find themselves in a position where they are given a large amount of information believed to be fact from well-meaning sellers, agents, contractors, inspectors and even neighbors. The key to remember is that most parties in a transaction are relying on third parties for this information and, occasionally, it can be incorrect. Making sure you take the time to have important facts verified by independent specialists prior to closing is highly recommended and, if ever in doubt on a given topic, don’t hesitate to consult with your closing attorney’s office on items you may not fully understand.