Real Estate Sellers Disclosure

What do I have to disclose as a seller?

1 Answer

In a society as litigious as ours - I would recommend everything! Of course, if your son hit his first baseball through your garage window pane that's probably not an issue. That is, unless you had to replace the framing because he's a Roger Maris in the making. A small broken window you had repaired in a professional and workmanlike manner probably is a bit much, as is the rubber ball in a toilet tank. If you've been carefully maintaining your home these are little things that one fixes regularly. Typically, these are normal "wear and tear" of items.

But, seriously, let's think about it this way. Anything, and I mean, anything, that affects the structure and habitability of your home should be disclosed. If the roof leaked in 1972 and you fixed it - you should disclose that. If you replaced all the 1960's style windows with new Anderson windows - please disclose that. That's a benefit to the new Buyer and to you via a higher sales price return.

If your automatic icemaker broke while you were on vacation and you returned home to find six inches of water throughout your home disclose that, along with all the subsequent homeowner's insurance, disaster/water clean-up crew documentation, and all applicable repairs and/or warranties. If you repaired appliances, and they are selling with the home, then disclose that.

Now, if you decide not to disclose.

If your air conditioner condenser leaks inside your closet wall and the drywall is stained from it and you didn't fix these types of items, in my opinion, it is imperative that you disclose them so the buyer alerts the home inspector. Most likely a good inspector is going to find it anyway and recommend a licensed air conditioner company investigate the issue. You might feel a little self-conscious from that moment forward, but your buyer will most likely be pretty suspicious of even minor items on the report after that. You might not lose your sale for practicing less than perfect, or non-existent maintenance, but not disclosing known defects creates an atmosphere of distrust and hostility in buyers. If the inspector didn't find it you may very well find yourself in front a judge explaining your, well, Non-Disclosure!

My recommendation to all sellers is to conduct a home inspection prior to listing, make all the noted repairs, keep the receipts, and when the offer comes in make copies for the new buyer of the home inspection report, repairs, and receipts. And, a copy of your Seller's Disclosure! The buyer will be grateful and the little bit of money you paid up front gives the new buyer peace of mind. Further, add in a Home Warranty, e.g., a HOW for 12 months for the appliances if yours are getting a little older. Again, peace of mind to a grateful buyer - and kudos to a now trusted seller. When the home inspector comes, if they should even decide to hire one, everything is already good to go and your closing goes smoothly.

Ask your agent, if they don't offer one, for the Seller's Disclosure forms most brokerages now employ for your convenience. Complete it fully - tell everything. Take your time remembering just what you've done over the years. The forms are a tremendous help because they cover so much territory. However, if you don't know an answer - say that - "I don't know." Don't say not applicable when you don't know. You may find out a few months later that it was very applicable.

Many sellers think that if "I fixed it", and it's not "broken" now they don't have to disclose that. However, nothing is further from the truth. If you know of an item that was damaged or broken and it was properly repaired then the buyer may have his professional inspector take a look at that item for its current condition, quality of workmanship of the repair, and whether the work was completed in a professional manner. Again, you've "nipped the problem in the bud".

Surprisingly, buyers are grateful when you disclose both the major and minor issues of your on-going home maintenance and repairs. When you let your new buyer know that you annually clean the gutters, check all windows and doors for defective caulking for preventing air leaks, that once every year your HVAC company checks your system to make sure it's in tip top shape, and that you regularly replace your washer hot and cold water hoses - he feels a greater confidence in purchasing your home. Then if an item comes up on the inspection report, especially if it's minor, the buyer may not even ask for that repair since you take such good care of your home and are such an ethical seller that you disclosed everything right up front. He may feel a little sheepish asking for something so small from such a great guy!

There is truth in the adage, "Do unto to Others", especially in real estate. You wouldn't want to be on the wrong end of receiving inaccurate information and neither does your buyer. Honesty goes a long way in real estate transactions - inevitably these closings go smoother than those with sellers who try to hide things.