All About Property Disclosures - What Must You Share?

By
Real Estate Agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties DC AB15253

 

What You Need to Know About Disclosures.

The first thing to know is that the disclosure laws can be complicated, depending on where the property is located. As a seller, you naturally want to present your home in the best light possible.  But what should you do if your house has mold, termites or there’s some old heating tank buried in the yard, and you know about it? Although you may be tempted, you can’t pretend those problems don’t exist. It is likely that your state has property condition disclosure laws which require you to disclose this important information before a sales contract can be signed.  The state disclosures apply whether you use a real estate agent or not.

While the disclosure laws differ from state to state, most require that the seller disclose any latent defect. This means that if you know about a defect that a buyer probably will not spot, you need to disclose it to the buyer.  For instance, in heavy rainstorms, your window wells fill up and the basement floods but it hasn't rained in two months and the basement is bone dry.  While it may seem like the real estate gods have smiled on you, you still have to disclose.  Painting the walls of your unfinished basement to hide the water marks is not disclosure.

WIthin the three jurisdictions that comprise the DC metro area, there are three sets of rules. Virginia is a buyer beware or Caveat Emptor state.   In Virginia it’s the responsibility of the buyer to ascertain if there are any issues with the home.  The Virginia property disclosure form is a very simple - or even - noninformative one page disclosure that references the Virginia Property Disclosure Act.  Among the few things that a Virginia seller must disclose are whether the property was used as a meth lab in the past, uncorrected zoning violations, whether the property is in a tourism zone or near a military air zone or if there is a private storm water management facility on the property.  The seller does not need to disclose whether there are sexual predators in the area, defective dry wall, lead in the water or radon in the air.

In contrast,  Maryland and DC both have extensive and specific disclosure forms.  The DC one is mandatory while the Maryland form permits the seller to disclaim rather than disclose, but still requires that latent defects be disclosed even when the seller disclaims.

WHAT DOES YOUR STATE REQUIRE?

The first step is to confer with your real estate agent and/or attorney about what’s required to disclose. You can also check with your town’s city planning department about local ordinances and disclosures that can come into play.  For example, the requirements for smoke detectors in this area are very confusing and change depending on the age of the property.

Generally, you are only responsible for disclosing information that you personally know about. So, if there’s a condition you didn’t know about, and weren’t told about when you previously bought the house, it’s not necessary to hire an inspector to come look for things.

If you are a buyer, you should definitely have a home inspection.  The home inspection can cover items as varied as lead, radon, HVAC, chimneys, and structural issues.  It is up to you and your agent to make sure that you get a good inspector who does a thorough job.  You might ask your agent and your friends who recently bought a home for the names of several good inspectors.
 
ARE YOU CONFUSED?
 
If you are thinking of buying or selling a home in the DC metro area, please give the Lise Howe Group a call at 240-401-5577 or email us at lise@lisehowe.com  With 31 years of experience in selling homes in the DC area we can help you navigate through the process of buying or selling a home locally.  In addition, with many years as a lawyer in the Federal Government, Lise puts her legal background to use protecting clients during the contract process.

 

Comments (25)

Nina Hollander, Broker
Coldwell Banker Realty - Charlotte, NC
Your Greater Charlotte Realtor

Hi Lise... such an important topic. Disclosure requirements vary from state to state. I need to keep up with two states. I did a detailed post on what doesn't need to be disclosed in NC some years ago and it gets lots of views.

Dec 01, 2020 11:07 AM
Hannah Williams
HomeStarr Realty - Philadelphia, PA
Expertise NE Philadelphia & Bucks 215-820-3376

Lise Howe What a great post with wonderful information about disclosure 

Dec 01, 2020 01:40 PM
George Souto
George Souto NMLS #65149 FHA, CHFA, VA Mortgages - Middletown, CT
Your Connecticut Mortgage Expert

Lise my rule of thumb is when in doubt disclose it.  Not disclosing, and committing fraud is never a good choice.

Dec 01, 2020 02:54 PM
Grant Schneider
Performance Development Strategies - Armonk, NY
Your Coach Helping You Create Successful Outcomes

Good evening Lise Howe -  this certainly is a concern for the agent who needs to have an ethical as well as good legal record.

Dec 01, 2020 06:22 PM
Endre Barath, Jr.
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices - Beverly Hills, CA
Realtor - Los Angeles Home Sales 310.486.1002

Lise my take is if you use the Golden Rule as yo stand in front of the Judge and he asks : Why did you not disclose?? if you can pass the smell test than you will be fine:)Endre

 

Dec 01, 2020 10:28 PM
James Dray
Fathom Realty - Bentonville, AR
Exceptional Agents, Outstanding Results

Morning Lise.

Our disclosure is 8 pages long.  If the sellers decide to lie on the disclosure, it would cost them

Dec 02, 2020 12:26 AM
Brian England
Vacasa - Gilbert, AZ
MBA, GRI, REALTOR® Real Estate in East Valley AZ

When I give sellers the disclosure document to fill out, I tell them to just answer every question honestly.  Don't try to hide anything because the document is designed to protect them from any future lawsuits that a buyer might want to bring against them for not disclosing something.

Dec 02, 2020 04:51 AM
Lawrence "Larry" & Sheila Agranoff. Cell: 631-805-4400
The Top Team @ Charles Rutenberg Realty 255 Executive Dr, Plainview NY 11803 - Plainview, NY
Long Island Condo and Home Specialists

Great explanation Lise and such an important topic. Buyers and sellers need to be aware of these!

Dec 02, 2020 06:15 AM
Lise Howe
Keller Williams Capital Properties - Washington, DC
Assoc. Broker in DC, MD, VA and attorney in DC

Tammy Lankford, - very good question - even in a mandatory disclosure jurisdiction like DC, they exempt non-arms length transaction, foreclosures, sheriffs' sales, estate sales, new builds and the like - 

Dec 02, 2020 07:11 PM
Lise Howe
Keller Williams Capital Properties - Washington, DC
Assoc. Broker in DC, MD, VA and attorney in DC

Lawrence "Larry" & Sheila Agranoff. Cell: 631-805-4400 = thanks - in an area like DC, with three separate jurisdictions, it gets very confusing.

Dec 02, 2020 07:11 PM
Lise Howe
Keller Williams Capital Properties - Washington, DC
Assoc. Broker in DC, MD, VA and attorney in DC

James Dray - that disclosure is even longer than ours - fascinating how differently each jurisdiction approaches the same problem. 

Dec 02, 2020 07:12 PM
Lise Howe
Keller Williams Capital Properties - Washington, DC
Assoc. Broker in DC, MD, VA and attorney in DC

Brian England - that is very good advice - I always think it is easier to tell the truth because you can remember the truth but it is hard to remember the lies

Dec 02, 2020 07:13 PM
Lise Howe
Keller Williams Capital Properties - Washington, DC
Assoc. Broker in DC, MD, VA and attorney in DC

Grant Schneider- I never want to see one of my clients in realtor jail - or seller jail! It always is best to tell the truth!  Disclosure is always best - let the buyer decide how much they want the house

Dec 02, 2020 07:15 PM
Lise Howe
Keller Williams Capital Properties - Washington, DC
Assoc. Broker in DC, MD, VA and attorney in DC

Endre Barath, Jr. - I used to ask my clients at the Department of Energy to imagine their actions on the front page of the Washington Post - did they want to be there? Same idea .... Do you want to be in front of that judge explaining/justifying your actions?  Probably not... then don't do it! 

Dec 02, 2020 07:17 PM
Lise Howe
Keller Williams Capital Properties - Washington, DC
Assoc. Broker in DC, MD, VA and attorney in DC

Nina Hollander - it is particularly hard to keep multiple jurisdictions straight! 

Dec 02, 2020 07:18 PM
Roy Kelley
Realty Group Referrals - Gaithersburg, MD

This is very good information to share with prospective home sellers.

Dec 03, 2020 07:16 AM
John Juarez
The Medford Real Estate Team - Fremont, CA
ePRO, SRES, GRI, PMN

In California: You are expected to disclose “material” defects or facts. “Material” in this sense simply means something that is important for or determinative in the buyer’s decision to purchase the home.

We use two multi-page forms for disclosures.

Buyers must do their own due diligence and make a determination if the home is satisfactory.

Disclosures must be provided by he seller and reviewed and accepted/rejected by the buyer within contract contingency time periods.

Dec 05, 2020 04:51 PM
Debe Maxwell, CRS
www.iCharlotteHomes.com | The Maxwell House Group | RE/MAX Executive | (704) 491-3310 - Charlotte, NC
The right Charlotte REALTOR!

It's always interesting to see what different states mandate that is disclosed, Lise. For instance, in NC or SC, we don't have to disclose if someone died in the home. I hear other states have far stricter guidelines but, you never know what will wind up on court if you DON'T disclose. As Endre Barath, Jr. mentioned, apply The Golden Rule and you will never have to worry about a lawsuit!

Hey, I also wanted to wish you a Groovy New Year! May your 2021 be your best year yet, Lise! 

Have a Groovy New Year

Jan 01, 2021 11:21 AM
Laura Cerrano
Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island - Locust Valley, NY
Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher

Thanks for clarifying. I think a lot of people were/ are hope the lot by posts just like this.

Jan 02, 2021 10:03 PM
Laura Cerrano
Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island - Locust Valley, NY
Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher

Debe Maxwell, CRS It blows my mind how different each state is! Everything it’s like it’s own niche. :)

Jan 02, 2021 10:04 PM