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10 questions home sellers hope you don't ask

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4. How old is the roof?
Aw, jeez, doesn't every seller hate that one? The seller may have to disclose that on the property-condition form, but if the roof predates the current homeowner, he can truthfully say he doesn't know.

Consider this follow-up: Who was the previous owner and how can I contact him? It's cheaper to do a little digging now when you can still haggle over a full or partial roofing credit than to foot the whole bill yourself later.
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5. When was the last time the furnace was cleaned?
Who cares? You do!

"That's a huge gauge that I use," Wemett admits. "Furnaces should be cleaned every year. If it has been and there is a nice service record on the side of the furnace, chances are the rest of the house has been cared for. If that furnace hasn't been cleaned in three or four years and it's just filthy and has dirt and dust and so forth, I would say the rest of the house is probably the same and has not been cared for."

6. Is this house haunted?
Laugh if you like, but some home buyers will turn heel and exit promptly from houses that have been the scene of murders or suicides. Some states require sellers to disclose the presence of ghosts, poltergeists or paranormal activity on a property.

The seller likely won't rush to disclose that the place shakes, rattles and rolls after dark, but you may be able to draw the information out of them gradually.

"It could be divulged by asking why the house is on the market," says Wemett. If the answer is, "It's an estate sale," it's reasonable to ask how the guy died. You just might get the reply, "Well, it was a young guy and he was murdered in the house."

"Talking to neighbors might do the trick, too," Wemett adds.

7. Has this property ever been rented?
Any landlord will vouch that rentals take far more abuse than residences. If the property was used as a rental at some time, it speaks to the general condition of the place and may convince the seller to dicker on the sticker price.

8. What is your impression of the area schools?
If real estate is all about location, a top priority is a quality school district.

"You get two types of buyers: Those who are school district buyers and will look at that priority first and choose their towns and even neighborhoods based on it, and house-based buyers who don't need the absolutely top-tier school district but are looking for a certain housing level," says John Herman of The Buyer's Representative in Connecticut.

If schools are a priority for you, chances are you are already aware of the district's strengths and weaknesses. By asking the seller about schools, you may gain additional valuable information, such as whether they send their children to public or private schools.

9. Do you mind if I schedule a few inspections at my expense?
Some inspections, such as termite checks, may be required before a home can change hands. Increasingly, however, buyers are asking for professional inspections of chimneys, furnaces, roofing, air ducts and to detect the presence of Radon and other household gases.

"This is your one shot to learn about this house," says Wemett. "Litigation is expensive. Maybe the seller moves out of state. So you better figure out ahead of time and not rely on the seller to give you the information you need when it comes to the condition of the property. At least you have the opportunity to ask the seller to make repairs or write in a repair credit so you can go back and fix something."

10. Would you mind showing us around?
This is the one that selling agents fear above all others.

"That gives an opportunity for my buyer to schmooze the seller and to start a relationship so that if that is a house they're going to buy, it will help us in our negotiation," Wemett says.

"I had one case where the seller fell in love with my client and ended up dropping the price five grand just so my client could buy the house, and it was solely because of the relationship that had developed between them. Listing agents should tell their clients to get as far away from the house as possible."

Jay MacDonald is a contributing editor based in Mississippi.'s corrections policy -- Updated: June 12, 2006
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