State and federal laws are strict in requiring sellers to tell what they know about the condition of their homes that isn't obvious or discernable to potential buyers. Buyers can't see behind walls or under houses, so they rely on truthful information from the seller about the operations, appliances and systems of the home.
When you sell your home, your real estate agent will present you with a federal and/or state-mandated disclosure form called a Real Estate Disclosure Statement, Property Condition Disclosure, or Condition Report. You're required to disclose the presence of lead paint, radon, asbestos and other toxic products if you know your home has them.
While the forms may ask you to disclose whether or not you know there is lead paint or radon present, you aren't required to do tests to determine the presence of toxic chemicals. But your buyer's lender can always require proof of tests and/or remediation for any problem that has been disclosed, such as fire and water damage.
It's important to answer every question as truthfully as you can. You must answer the questions yourself - your real estate professional can not fill out the disclosure for you, but he or she can help you understand what's being asked of you. If you're in doubt about what to disclose, such as a repair, it's best to err on the side of too much information than not enough.
While disclosure forms allow you to check the "I don't know" box, you should only do so if you truly don't know the condition of that item. If you answer that you don't know the condition of an appliance you use daily, such as a sink or bathtub, you might raise suspicions in the buyer.
The best way to feel confident about the condition of your home is to have it inspected by a licensed professional home inspector. Your real estate professional can recommend someone or provide you with a list. For a few hundred dollars and a few hours of your time, you'll either find that your home is market-ready, or the inspector will bring a problem to your attention that you can fix.
When you disclose a problem to the buyer that has previously been fixed, be sure to provide a copy of work orders, receipts and invoices. If the problem hasn't been fixed, expect the buyer to either ask you to fix it, or to offer a little less for the home.
Remember, the more that's left unrepaired, the more the buyer will discount the offer, if he makes one at all. Homes in the best condition sell the best.
The seller's disclosure is designed to do one thing -- hold you and your real estate agent harmless if you've disclosed the truth about your property. You don't want to give the buyer any room for complaint or litigation after the closing.
To get an idea of the types of questions you'll be asked in a disclosure, you can find legal forms at FindLegalForms.com.
Don't be afraid of the seller's disclosure. It's not meant to be a deal-killer, but a deal-maker. Many agents provide a copy of the disclosure to interested buyers, so they can get an idea of the home's condition before they make an offer or have an inspection.