Can A Tree Kill A Home Sale?

Eric Stewart September 15, 2015

When a home is for sale, mature trees on the property are often a selling point. Trees and other landscaping add to a home’s curb appeal and make the home more inviting. However, are there times when a tree can kill a home sale?

More specifically, does a seller have to replace a dying tree once their home is under contract? Or, make any repairs to the home due to damage caused by a tree? Read on to find out. 

Recently, I helped a client sell a home in McLean, VA. At settlement, the buyer requested that the seller pay $1700 to remove a large white oak tree in the front of the house that the buyer thought was dead. However, the contract did not call for the seller to remove any dead trees. During the contract negotiations, the buyer had asked for a pruning of all of the lower limbs that were dead on the trees on the property. The seller had conceded to this request and hired an arborist to take care of the pruning. However, the arborist indicated that the tree in question was not dead. Additionally, the seller indicated that the tree was alive, but that its leaves typically changed color (from green to orange) in late summer versus the fall every year. So, did the seller have to pay the $1700 for the removal of a tree the buyer thought was dead? What is the seller’s obligation by contract?

The short answer is that the seller did not have to do anything regarding the tree. Sellers do not have an obligation to remove trees, whether they are alive or dead. Trees are treated like grass and bushes, or anything else on the property. It’s the actual house that has to be delivered in substantially the same condition at the time of the contract ratification. So, in this situation, the seller did not have to remove the tree and the buyer, after discussion with their settlement attorney, agreed and dropped their request.

What if a tree causes damage and impacts the structure of the house while the house is under contract? What is the seller’s obligation then? I had this scenario happen a few years ago to another client who was selling their house, a 1960’s era Cape Cod in Rockville, Maryland.

As part of the contract, the buyer had done a home inspection and come up with a list of requested repairs on the property that the seller and buyer negotiated out to acceptable terms. Then, a storm came and knocked a 75 foot oak tree down, literally crushing the second floor of the home with the branches of the tree poking through to the first floor. It was a stunning sight to see. So, what is the seller’s obligation here?

First, it’s important to note that the title to the property transfers to the new owner at the point of contract ratification, subject to the terms of the contract being completed by the settlement date. However, as discussed above, the seller has an obligation to deliver the property in substantially the same condition as of the time of purchase. This applies even if the house is sold “as is.” Therefore, the seller had to remedy this situation. However, due to the substantial damage done to the house, this was not going to happen by the original closing date. Since the buyer still wanted to purchase the house, both the buyer and seller agreed to extend the settlement date.

After the seller incurred some haggling with their insurance company (which highlights the importance of making sure you shop insurance companies and fully understand what is covered in their policies), the entire portion of the house that was damaged was rebuilt, which amounted to about $125,000 in total repairs. 

The buyer had to wait two more months, but to their delight, they got a house that was actually in much better condition than it was when the contract was ratified. If the seller had made these updates before they had put the home on the market they would have increased their asking price, and the buyers would have had to potentially pay substantially more for the home.

So, there are instances where trees can have an impact on a home sale. If you are getting ready to put your home on the market and you have a tree that may be dying and you are not sure whether to take it down, consult your real estate agent for guidance. While you may not have to do it under the terms of the real estate contract, a dying tree could hinder your curb appeal, and thus buyer interest. 

For additional guidance on navigating the complexities of selling your home, contact the real estate experts at the Eric Stewart Group, who have over 27 years of experience helping home buyers and sellers across the metro area. For more tips on preparing your home for the market, download our FREE Market Ready Guide. And, for a list of our other recommended vendors, download our complimentary Preferred Vendor Guide.




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