By Lena Borrelli

There’s a lot to keep track of when buying and selling a home. As the homebuyer, it’s critical to be aware of existing issues with the property, especially if buying a fixer, and as the seller, you’re required to be transparent about the home. In most states, sellers can actually face legal consequences if they fail to fully disclose.

What is a seller disclosure form?

A seller disclosure form is a document from a home seller that conveys to homebuyers the home’s condition as the seller understands it, along with any known existing defects, possibly including hazards or disputes. The seller disclosure is typically a standardized form consisting of multiple pages.

What do seller disclosures include?

Some seller disclosures are mandated by federal law, such as the requirement to disclose lead-based paint if the home was built prior to 1978. However, additional disclosure requirements vary depending on state and local laws. In Florida, for example, sellers in the coastal area are required to disclose a property’s potential for erosion.

While disclosure laws differ based on location, these are some of the common disclosures made when selling a home:

  • Hazards: This discloses hazards such as lead-based paint, radon, asbestos, or pests or termites.
  • Record of repairs: This discloses any extensive repairs you’ve made to the home. This helps the buyer understand the home’s condition (especially if the repairs were due to fire or water damage) and know what to look for, and keep an eye on going forward.
  • Disputes and liens: This discloses any known property line disputes and liens on the property, such as a tax lien.
  • HOA: This discloses whether the home is in a homeowners association (HOA) so the buyer knows HOA restrictions and rules.
  • Surrounding area: The exact disclosure requirements for the area surrounding the home vary. For example, the Michigan seller disclosure form requires you to indicate whether your home is located near a farm or shooting range.

You aren’t legally required to disclose a death on the property, but there are exceptions to this in some states. However, a caveat: If the buyer inquires about a death (and you know about it), you have to share.

If you choose to sell your home “as is,” you’ll still need to make the minimum disclosures (like lead paint), but you might not be required to provide a detailed form.

Caveat emptor explained

With a seller disclosure, you might come across “caveat emptor,” which loosely translates to “let the buyer beware.” This means that the onus is on the homebuyer to assess the property before purchase and assume responsibility for maintaining or repairing it after it transfers to them. This doesn’t negate the need for a seller disclosure, however.

Takeaways

Home sellers can face legal consequences if they fail to disclose the full condition of their property and be financially liable if they willfully conceal information. While homebuyers can’t go after sellers for new issues that crop up after the sale, virtually every state has laws in place to protect buyers from existing problems.

Whether you’re on the buying or selling side, the seller’s disclosure provides critical information, helping homebuyers feel secure in what they’re buying and protecting sellers from potential legal ramifications.

This article is also posted on Bankrate here.