Anyone looking to buy a home has, at some point, come across the phrase ‘caveat emptor’ – buyers beware. And while it’s very tempting for the seller to assume that buyers will do their due diligence beforehand, there are still some disclosures that you will have to make. So before you get ready to give buyers the grand tour of their future home, read on to find out what you will need to disclose prior to the sale.
Regardless of whether the home you are selling has been bought from another homeowner or you have built it yourself, no house is perfect. From cracks in the foundation and leaky roofs, to sewer and electrical faults, you will need to let your buyers know of any structural defects related to your home. In most cases, you are only required to disclose defects that you are aware of, without the need to contract a surveyor for a full assessment. However, the legislation may vary from state to state, so check with your local governmental agencies to make sure that there aren’t any inspections you need to arrange beforehand.
As a seller, you are required by law to disclose any pest infestations or issues. Pests can vary from mice, snakes, termites and even bats, to invasive plants, such as the Japanese knotweed. Most states will require you to disclose only active infestations; however, the legislation varies and in some cases, you will be required to provide the full history of previous infestations, even if they have already been dealt with.
Toxic materials in your home
As housing regulations change, you may find that some of the building materials that used to be commonplace several decades ago are now labeled as hazardous. One example that really stands out is lead paint. If the home you’re selling was built before 1978, you are legally required to disclose all information about lead-based paint in your home, under the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992. Other examples include asbestos, urea-formaldehyde, radon, and even mold. All these items present a major health hazard for both you and your buyers, therefore non-disclosure is not only illegal, but also unethical.
Previous repairs and renovations
You may think that if your house had a problem several years ago and you fixed it, then it’s all water under the bridge, and as such it doesn’t need to be disclosed. However, a plastered crack in the wall is not the same as a crack in the foundation. Let your buyers know of any previous repairs done on your home, particularly if they require regular maintenance, or if they may recur in the future. Renovations and expansions should also be disclosed, especially if your home no longer matches the original building plans. Some states have very strict air rights regulations, so you may also need to let your buyers know that any modifications to your home are done in accordance with the law.
Trouble neighbors and HOA information
Saying goodbye to your troublesome neighbors sounds great, but it’s good to remember that they will become someone else’s problem. As such, it is best to disclose to your buyers any neighborly disputes, whether it’s a disagreement over a fence or a barking dog. You will also need to disclose whether your home is in a high crime rate area, especially if one of your neighbors has an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO). You should also let your buyers know if your house is governed by a Homeowners Association, and bring them up to date regarding any meetings and regulations.
Picture this scenario: a family buying a nice home in the suburbs, only to discover that it has been the scene of a heinous murder. It may sound like the beginning of a horror movie, but most buyers are wary of what is referred to as ‘emotional defects’. And while you’re not expected to disclose the fact that your grandmother passed away peacefully in her sleep, most states will expect you to let buyers know whether your home has been the scene of a murder or a suicide. The legislation varies from state to state. In some areas, violent death on the property doesn’t need to be disclosed if it occurred more than 3 years ago; however, if the buyers specifically ask for these details, you must provide them. Again, check the Civic Code in the area where you live and see if this applies in your case.
Always let your buyers know of any environmental dangers, whether it’s floods, wildfires, earthquakes or tornadoes. You must also let your buyers know of any proposed environmental changes that can have an impact on them living there, such as a highway being built nearby. Other off-site hazards may include flight paths in your vicinity or even a nearby power plant. Admittedly, flood maps and areas that are likely to be affected by wildfires are readily available on the FEMA website, yet disclosing these hazards to the buyers yourself makes you come across as transparent and reliable, and will make you a more appealing seller.
Disclosing any faults with your home may not seem like a sensible approach for potential sellers. If anything, you might risk having buyers try to negotiate a lower price, or worse, not selling your home at all. However, there are several items that you are required to disclose by law, or even just as a common courtesy. When in doubt, it’s best to let it out.
Full disclosure can protect both parties, and will spare you as a seller a lot of hassle in the future, from lawsuits and fines, even jail time. If you’re not sure what to disclose, check with your local county clerk for any disclosure forms, or discuss this with a lawyer or real estate professional.