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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.