I’m thinking about buying a house and I’m worried about defects. How do I ensure I don’t buy a property with serious defects? (Part One – patent defects)

The doctrine of caveat emptor, or buyer beware, generally applies in Ontario residential real estate transactions (with certain exceptions), so it’s your responsibility as a buyer to exercise your due diligence before making an offer on a property. It’s up to you to ask the right questions and inspect the property carefully to ensure it’s suited to your needs. It’s also up to you to seek input and support from the right experts.

Work closely with your real estate salesperson, who can help you examine the property during visits, offer ideas for conducting your own independent research, and formulate questions to ask the seller’s representative. And regardless of whether you’re buying or selling, I also recommend hiring a lawyer who is experienced and insured to practice residential real estate law early in the process. They will tell you that the law in Ontario makes a distinction between patent defects – problems with a home that are easily observable by the untrained eye during an inspection of a property, and latent defects – problems that are not easily observable, and might not even be discoverable by an expert such as an engineer, contractor, or experienced home inspector.

Patent defects are usually fairly obvious: a missing railing, visible cracks in a foundation wall, or broken stairs on a staircase, to give a few examples. The distinction between patent and latent defects isn’t always clear-cut in the real world, so sellers must make their own decisions about what to disclose to prospective buyers, with the help of their lawyer and knowledgeable experts.

Since patent defects are often easily detectable, the seller isn’t obligated to disclose them to potential buyers, meaning it’s the responsibility of buyers to find them.

Still, it’s always possible to miss a problem during a visit to a property (or not know what to look for). You could also get a bit blinded by the things you really like about the home. So, buyers are well advised to hire an experienced home inspector and to make any offers conditional upon the successful completion of a home inspection or other inspection that may be necessary to ensure the property meets your needs. Since a home inspection is a visual assessment of a property’s overall condition, and it doesn’t include poking holes in the structure to look behind the scenes, you may wish to also opt for specialized inspections, such as examinations for termites or mould.

If you have a question for Joe about the home buying or selling process, please email information@reco.on.ca.


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Joseph Richer is Registrar of the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO). He is in charge of the administration and enforcement of all rules that govern real estate professionals in Ontario. You can find more tips at reco.on.ca, follow on Twitter @RECOhelps or on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/RECOhelps.

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