Knowing what the law says about disclosure is an important part of the real estate sales process. You need to be aware of what you are expected to disclose to potential buyers, both to avoid breaking any laws and to help you better plan your sales process. Of course, as a real estate agent, you want to present the best points of the home you’re marketing to fetch the best price, but you also want to avoid potential lawsuits by following the letter of the law.
Generally speaking, you want to be honest about the state of the home you are selling. While there is no need to paint it in a bad light—what you think is a problem may not be for the right buyer—an honest assessment of the positives and negatives of the property tends to make things easier for both buyer and seller.
For real estate agents, understanding disclosure laws is a paramount part of your success, along with keeping you out of a courtroom, as well. Real estate agents need to be keenly aware that disclosure laws in many states are different for sellers than they are for agents. In general, real estate agents are held to a much higher standard than homeowners are in many areas of the country.
Things to Disclose about Homes for Sale
Quite often home sellers will ask real estate agents, “What do I have to disclose when selling my house?” The answer really depends from state to state. (Here is a reference where you can find a comprehensive review of just about every issue under the sun that could come up in a real estate transaction.) Do your homework and know the disclosure laws in your area. Below is a review of some of the more popular disclosure issues in real estate sales.
The federal government requires that homeowners make it known if a property contains lead-based paint if the home was built before 1978. You may have received a pamphlet about the risks of lead paint when you bought the home, or when you were a renter at some point. As a seller, you will need to provide the same pamphlet to buyers, and allow them to test the home for the presence of lead within a 10-day period. Disclosing the possibility of lead paint is a federal regulation. It is just about the only disclosure issue that applies to every state in the U.S.
Repairs and Renovations
Major repairs and renovations must meet building code requirements in your area. When the home inspector goes over the house, he or she will most likely notice any repairs that have been done, so it is good to be prepared with documentation that all the work done to the home is up to code before you try to sell the home. Plenty of home sales have fallen through due to shoddy repair work, so avoid any problems by having all the paperwork in order.
Mold and the water that causes mold problems can be a serious issue for potential buyers. Although it has yet to be demonstrated that mold causes serious health issues in a home, the fact is that buyers are hyper aware of mold and are not going to be happy if they discover it after they have closed on your home. Be straightforward about the problem, look for the most effective solutions (mold remediation specialists can help) and you should still be able to sell your home, even if you discover mold.
The concrete facts about your home, like its square footage, are not something that you can fudge on. It only takes a buyer breaking out a tape measure to verify your square footage claims, so it makes sense to be accurate from the start. Bringing in a third party professional to the home to have him or her calculate the square footage is never a bad idea. If you have already had an appraisal, an accurate measurement should be available on your report.
You want to clear up any legal issues related to the home if at all possible before you go to sell it. Things like a cloud on the title or a lien against your home can make selling the property harder than it has to be, so ideally you will work these issues out before you try to sell. If you do have any ongoing legal issues with the property, you will need to explain them to any buyer you are hoping to attract. If the home is a short sale, probate sale or estate sale, that should be disclosed to the buyer up front.
If you live in a neighborhood with an association, this should be disclosed up front to potential buyers. Your HOA is an important part of your property, dictating a variety of things about living there and about ownership. Any buyer is going to need to know about the HOA and its requirements before purchase. You do not need to vent all your frustrations to a potential buyer—any HOA can be frustrating to deal with at times—but you do need to let him or her know that the HOA is part of the deal.
An informed buyer will ask questions about the state of the HOA, how it handles problems and its financial stability, so it can save you time to gather all this information before you start meeting with buyers.
Termites and other pest infestations are going to be noticed by any good home inspector. Even if you have already had the problem addressed, there will most likely still be evidence that there was a problem at some point in time. As the seller, you want to be ahead of the game and have all your information ready to explain the termite problem, how you dealt with it and why it is no longer a worry for any potential buyer. Get documentation from whoever treats for the pests and have it ready as you go to sell.
Knowing how to prepare for a home inspection as a seller is always an important consideration for keeping a sale from falling apart. When doing your listing walk-through, it is always a good idea to look for blatant problems that could surface during the time of the buyer’s home inspection.
Major Issues with the Home
Things like the roof, foundation, walls, plumbing, electrical system and other fundamental features within a home are supposed to be in good working order. After living at the home for a while, sellers may realize they have issues, but just don’t have the funds to fix them, or think nobody will find out.
When it comes to disclosing the issues you should know about, speaking with the seller on the history of problems is not a bad idea. Any great real estate agent should know the disclosure laws for their area. He or she should be able to assess what the real issues are—which need to be disclosed—and the issues that are not as important. Decide on how you will present the information to be honest and accurate, while avoiding the tendency to present the home in a bad light.