What is a disclosure? A property disclosure is a document that is completed by the seller of a home, and given to a potential buyer before he or she makes a decision regarding purchasing the home. It is a legal requirement in most states, and may not be completed by the real estate agent, but must be completed and signed by the seller. These disclosure statements, can come in a variety of forms, are the buyer’s opportunity to learn as much as they can about the property and the seller’s experience in it. Potential seller disclosures range from knowledge of leaky windows to work done without the benefit of a permit, to information about a major construction or development project nearby.
If you’re in the process of selling a home, when it comes to disclosures, ten different real estate agents will tell you ten different things. Some will say that it’s not necessary to disclose that someone died on your property – even if that person was poisoned and fed into a wood chipper. Some will say to disclose every nut that’s been tightened and every faucet drip that’s occurred. The fact is laws govern this very issue. While they vary from state to state, there are federal laws as well, the most notable of which is regarding lead-based paint. The best thing to do, especially if you’ve heard suggestions that seem too extreme one way or another, is to consult a real estate attorney who knows your state’s disclosure laws.
The general rule of thumb is that anything that lowers the perceived value of the property or anything that would affect the buyer's decision to purchase or the price and terms the buyer offers should be disclosed including:
Pollution – noise, air, ground and water
These are general to most of the country, but some are region-specific, such as:
California and Nevada earthquakes
Tornado activity in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa, Nebraska
Hurricanes in Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia
Mudslides in California
Wildfires in Wyoming, California, Colorado, Nevada
Bentonite soil in Colorado (expanding/contracting soil that makes concrete foundations, pads and patios heave, shift and crumble)
Then there are special situations, including:
Sex offenders in the area
Dangerous dogs in the neighborhood (i.e., pit bulls)
Perceived or real “haunted” status
Death on the property, especially if caused by a gruesome murder (In some states, you are required to disclose if someone died on the property within the last three years.) However, interestingly, if someone died on your property of AIDS, you may not have to disclose it since it may violate privacy and discrimination laws.
When it’s time to fill out the disclosure forms, you will be required to fill them out yourself. Some inexperienced realtors may believe that it’s their job to do this, but in reality, it’s yours. Some tips: Answer all questions to the best of your ability. Don’t sweat the small stuff, but make sure you disclose everything that you’d want disclosed to you if you were the buyer. If you don’t know the answer to a question (such as exact age of the roof if you’re not the original owner or the like), answer “Do Not Know.” But not having precise facts about defects you know exist does not permit you to answer “Do Not Know” to every question. This will always raise a red flag.
Just use your common sense and be honest and fair.