(Picture from the Austell, Georgia website – image of the 500 year flooding in September of 2009)
I am showing buyers moving to Atlanta from Massachusetts homes in Austell, Georgia. After a day of looking, their favorite home was chosen – a nice, sturdy, all brick ranch of larger proportions than most; clearly, in their minds, superior to the other homes we had seen that day.
As is my custom, I called the agent and asked for a seller’s disclosure, since it was their favorite of the day. A section in the Georgia seller’s disclosure asks if the property is in flood plain. The seller answered “do not know”. The seller’s disclosure also asks if there has been standing water on the property after a heavy rain. The answer? Again, you guessed it – “do not know”. HOW does a seller NOT know this? Even if it is a rental property, surely if the property floods they are told by the tenant, or check often enough to know if there is a water problem.
Answering “do not know” to this question raises all sorts of red flags. Sellers, if you truly DO NOT KNOW if your property is in flood plain, CHECK IT OUT. It’s easy enough to do. Go to www.fema.gov, and click on “flood maps” – then enter your address.
And, importantly, ANSWER the question about whether or not water stays on your property after a heavy rain. Answer as honestly and completely as you can. Answering “I don’t know” only hurts – much more than it helps. With the Austell home, we had to presume the worst. The sellers finally did come back and answer the question completely – there HAD been water in the crawlspace, and they described how much water had been there – but of course, by this time, we weren’t comfortable with the seller’s veracity. They had answered a question on the disclosure “don’t know” when they really DID know – what else were they not completely truthful about?
The moral of this story is to ALWAYS ANSWER QUESTIONS ON THE SELLER’S DISCLOSURE HONESTLY AND THOROUGHLY. It will come back to bite you if you do not. While buyers are particularly sensitive to flooding issues since the huge flood of September 2009, trying to cover up or not answer questions about water problems will NOT help you sell your home. The only way to go is absolute and complete honesty.