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Perspectives on Florida Law
May, 2012

Residential Home Disclosures - by Dennis R. DeLoach, Jr. Esq.

Buying a home is one of life's most stressful events. You are dealing with banks, realtors, title companies, and the seller of your prospective home. While many of these people are working on your behalf, the seller of the home you wish to purchase is not. Failure to properly evaluate your home prior to buying it can quickly turn your dream of home ownership into a nightmare.

There are some problems with a home that you can easily see. A roof that needs repairs, cracked tile on the floor, or that kitchen that needs to be updated are all things you can see when making the decision to purchase your home, but what about the hidden problems?

Under Florida law, where the seller of a home has actual knowledge of facts materially affecting the value of a home, which are not readily observable and not known to the buyer, the seller is under a duty to disclose them to the buyer. This is the law regardless of whether the home is being sold "as is".

So what exactly is a fact that materially affects the value of a home? While there is no exact list of which non-disclosures are considered to materially affect the value of a home, here are some facts that have been considered in Florida:

FACTS THAT DO NOT MATERIALLY AFFECT THE VALUE OF A HOME:

  • If the home has been the site of a homicide, suicide, or death;
  • If a sexual predator lives in the neighborhood;
  • If the home lies in a flood-prone area;
  • Any fact which is readily observable to a buyer.

FACTS THAT DO MATERIALLY AFFECT THE VALUE OF A HOME:

  • Cracks in the foundation;
  • Existing restrictions that will prevent the type of use by the purchaser for which he is buying the home for;
  • Water damage to the home causing mold and poor air quality;
  • Pending code enforcement actions against the property;
  • Prior sinkhole claims.

It is important to know your rights when buying a home. Whether you are thinking about purchasing a home, or you have recently purchased one and have been unpleasantly surprised by undisclosed problems, the attorneys at DeLoach + Hofstra, P.A. are here to help. If you would like additional information on the home buying process and what information you need to know before buying a home, please give us a call to schedule a consultation.


Understanding the Difference Between "Market Value" and "Replacement Value" - by Peter Hofstra, Esq.

In years past, most homeowners purchased their homeowner's insurance when they bought their home. Rarely, if ever, was the policy renewed, since the premium was usually paid by the bank or savings & loan association holding the mortgage.

When the hurricanes came, insurance premiums skyrocketed and homeowners started looking at their policies.

You should examine your coverage annually. When you do, be aware that although property values have decreased, the cost to rebuild or replace your home has probably continued to increase.

"Market Value" is the price at which your home would sell if you were to sell it today. It is based upon the physical characteristics and location of your home. It is what a bank is willing to pay for your home.

"Replacement Value" or the "Insured Value" is what it would cost or rebuild your home with comparable construction materials.

Be aware that if your insurance policy's replacement value is too low, you may not be able to duplicate your current home without including significant out of pocket expenses.

We encourage you to contact your insurance agent today to review your coverage.


Dog Owner Liability - by Paul Cavonis, Esq.

A dog can be a wonderful companion. Many consider their dog to be a member of the family. I know my family does. However, a dog can also be a big liability. While most people believe this liability is limited to dog bites, the fact is that a dog owner is liable for anydamage caused by their dog. This liability is not limited to dog bites.

In Florida, dog owners are strictly liable for damages caused by their dog. This means that unless someone is trespassing on your property or harassing your dog, you are liable for any damages caused by your dog. Some examples include: dog bites; an unleashed dog causing a bicyclist to crash; or a dog knocking down an elderly person or small child.

Since a dog owner's liability is broad, it is important to have liability insurance to protect you and your assets. This liability insurance is typically part of your homeowner's insurance.

However, many homeowner policies, like those issued by Citizens, do not cover damages caused by dogs. If your policy excludes coverage, you are not protected from a possible claim. You should review your insurance policy and discuss it with your agent to make sure you are protected.

If your existing policy does not provide coverage for damages caused by your dog, you should get a different policy.


Life Care Planning Team becomes Respecting Choices Facilitators - by "Rep" DeLoach, Esq.

I love our life care planning practice. Every day we are making a difference in our client's lives, whether we are helping our clients find good care in a hospital or nursing home, putting correct estate planning documents in place or helping protect assets from the great expenses of long term care, we know that our families are in good hands and that their pressures are less.

As part of our quest to help families with their aging loved ones, our team recently took the Advanced Care Planning facilitator course offered by Project Grace. This class, as part of the Gundersen Health System, was designed to help social workers, doctors, attorneys and hospice staff talk to their patients/clients about correctly implementing advanced directives. Although I have been practicing law for almost 13 years, I found the class to be extremely rewarding.

An advanced directive is a class of documents that work together to help people when they are incapacitated or dying. These documents generally include living wills, healthcare surrogates, do not resuscitate orders and more. Although I am on the Project Grace board of directors and have talked to clients for years about their living wills, it is only now that I have learned the best way to help my clients, and their families, to openly discuss their healthcare concerns so that their wishes are followed in difficult times.

Before the class started, we had six on-line modules to complete. The modules revolved around current issues with advanced directives, effective ways to communicate with families, problems with living wills, implementing good systems and more. While some of the modules were geared more towards hospital/nursing home social workers, the learning was great fun, interesting and rewarding. Taking the class with the Project Grace facilitators was even more interesting.

Starting bright and early at the Suncoast Hospice Garden House in Clearwater, we had our full day session on advanced directives training. We watched some amazing videos on end-of-life wishes, had good discussion with the other attendees and had great role playing through mock interviews with each other. Most of the discussions helped us learn how to correctly talk to people about creating and communicating their end of life wishes. The session provided us great scripts on how to talk to our clients about living wills and how they should involve their families in the process.

One of the most important things I learned was that living wills and healthcare surrogates are about much more than the legal aspects that I had focused on. The real goal is to make sure that our clients have correctly expressed their wishes to their family members and that the family will follow their end-of-life wishes, even if they disagree with them. Talking to people about these matters is, to say the least, an art and not a science.

I know that Donna, our community liaison, and Joy, our elder care coordinator, learned a lot and, like myself, cannot wait to take this into our practices. We frequently help our clients in end-of-life decision making and we want to be the best we can in this difficult time.

Thank you to Tracy Christner, Karen Milne and the rest of Suncoast Hospice for offering this tremendous learning program to our community.

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