I wish I could remember who it was that advised me “No one ever got sued for disclosing too much about their home,” so that I could thank them for that bit of wisdom.
It is true. The more you are upfront about the condition of your home, the easier your transaction will be.
I think of filling out the property disclosure form as the first stage of saying goodbye to your home. You’ve prepped it for market and made it shine, but now it is time to tell the truth and start the home on its path to a new owner.
Some sellers think of the disclosures form as a confessional where they share their sins of homeownership. But, please remember, this is not about you. It is about the home.
I get it. You are scared to be truthful about deficiencies that your home may have. You are worried it will affect the marketability and sales price. But, by being transparent upfront, you will actually be helping the marketability and sales price.
One key reason to be as open as possible on the disclosure form is that it makes it more difficult for a buyer to reasonably ask for repairs or credits on items listed in the disclosure form. I insist that my sellers have the disclosure form completed by the time we hit the market, so that buyers can review them before writing an offer. Further, I insist that buyers include signed disclosures with their submitted offer so we know that their offer is well-informed.
Then, when the buyer asks for the dual-pane window with the broken seal to be replaced, you can easily reject that based on the fact that the seller was made aware of the condition on the disclosure form, which was signed and included with the initial offer and that the home was priced accordingly.
Remember if your disclosures are not completed and up on RMLS by the day your listing goes "live," potential Buyers will have more clout to ask for disclosed repairs, if the disclosures were not available at the time they made their offer.
So, what should you disclose? I typically think of these three areas: Structural, Functional, Cosmetic.
If you are aware of any structural issues, this is when you disclose them: foundation, crawlspace, attic, roof, dry rot. Many sellers are unaware of structural issues, and these come up in the buyer’s home inspection. But if you know anything, you must disclose it. Some sellers may even get a pre-market home inspection of their own for peace of mind on these big-ticket, sometimes hidden issues.
Functional issues seem to come up the most, like the example of the broken seal on the window. Because most sellers live in and use their house on a daily basis, they are more aware of functional issues, like a faucet that has low pressure or a loose board on the deck stairs. Now is the time to disclose it.
Cosmetic issues are tricky. They don’t really affect the structure or functionality of the home, but they can make a buyer uneasy about the house if anything appears to be deficient—even if it isn’t. Do you need to disclose some faded paint or worn carpet? Since it is difficult to ask for repairs on cosmetic issues anyway, many sellers skip cosmetic issues. Where I would recommend disclosing cosmetic issues is when it may cause concerns about structure or function, such as squeaky floorboards or minor settling cracks.
Also, when completing the form, only answer yes or no if you are 100% certain of the correct response. If you answer “yes, the furnace is perfect” and then the buyer’s inspection discovers problems with the furnace, it calls into question the accuracy of the other answers.
So, if you truly don’t know an answer, check off “unknown.” However, don’t just check off “unknown” just to cover your butt.
I also believe that being as transparent as possible on the disclosure form conveys a sense of trustworthiness on the seller’s part in the transaction. When buyers see a disclosure form filled out hastily and full of “unknown” answers, a feeling sinks in that the sellers are either uninformed and poor caretakers of the home or that they are being intentionally deceitful. Whereas, disclosing minor issues displays knowledge and trustworthiness.
So, don’t think of the disclosure form as a confession of your sins. Think of the form as your first line of defense during the buyer’s inspection negotiations.