In 1994, Washington passed a certain set of laws that are sometimes referred to as “buyer beware laws.” These laws require sellers to provide a property disclosure form prior to the sale of any real estate. In a nutshell, home sellers in Washington State must disclose certain vital information about their property before completing any residential transaction.
The statute itself is complicated. There are a variety of details that must be included in the disclosure, and the seller must fill out the form on their own. As agents, we can provide definitions for terms that are found in the form’s content or general guidance to get you through the disclosure process, but the actual information must come from you alone. Here’s what you need to know about this critical legal document prior to listing your home for sale:
What To Disclose
It would be virtually impossible to describe every detail of every state’s disclosure laws in a single article, so we’re going to give you an overview. To put it plainly, you’ll need to disclose anything that may be detrimental to the buyer of your property.
Think of anything that you would want to know about a house. How well does the plumbing function? Is this system structurally sound? Does the home’s water come from the city, county, or a private well? Anything of that nature will be included in your property disclosure form.
The eight main disclosure categories you need to know are as follows:
Title and Legal: As part of your transaction, you will be asked to verify that you own the legal rights to sell your property. That is to say that you own the title to all real property that will be conveyed. Contractual rights of first refusal, legal option to purchase, deed restrictions, liens, easements, encroachments, and any other encumbrances must be reported, as well.
Water: In this section, you must disclose whether you’re on public or well water. Other small things water-related details, such as outdoor sprinkler systems are also included in this provision.
Sewer/On-Site Sewage System: Here, you must disclose the type of sewage disposal system your property utilizes (septic tank, public waste disposal).
Structural: This covers any structural defects that may exist on your property. It is mandatory report a leaky roof, a cracked foundation, the age of the home, rotting beams, and more.
Systems and Fixtures: This category is broad. It requires you to disclose any “systems” that are part of your property and any malfunctions or defects that may be associated with them. These include electrical systems, plumbing, and even smoke alarms.
Homeowners’ Association/Common Interests: If your home is part of a homeowners’ association, you will use this section to inform your buyer and provide them with contact information, cost, what amenities are covered by those costs, and a copy of any joint maintenance agreements that they will be asked to sign when they become home owners in your community.
Environmental: The environmental category of your property disclosure covers everything related to weather, climate, and natural disasters that have affected the home (or are likely to do so in the future). You must disclose floods, fire damage, and any other major event that has damaged the property.
Manufactured and Mobile Homes: This category can become quite complex, but to put it simply, this area of the disclosure form is your opportunity to disclose whether or not the property includes any manufactured (modular) or mobile structures.
Aside from the standard categories we’ve listed above, the form gives sellers one more space to cover any issues that may have been overlooked or simply do not fit into any of the predefined areas. In this “catch-all” category, any other details that would be considered essential to the buyer must be disclosed here.
The importance of revealing everything simply cannot be overstated, no matter how insignificant the seller believes an issue to be.
When in doubt…disclose, disclose, disclose!
The Potential Consequences
Failure to disclose everything required by the seller disclosure form can result in anything from a withdrawn offer to a lawsuit.
It’s in your best interest to make sure this form is filled out accurately. Realtors® can provide no protection from a voided contract due to dishonesty on the disclosure form. We also have no power to help you if a buyer decides to sue over an inaccurate or dishonest answer. Our best recourse is to emphasize the importance of honest, accurate answers, and make sure you understand the meaning of every question. Please note that as Realtors®, we can generally advise you with regards to the disclosure form; we cannot fill out the form for you.
Always assume the buyer will arrange for a home inspection and find the truth, regardless of your answers, because they almost always do.
A conversation with your real estate agent could save your sale and possibly a significant amount of money in legal fees.
If you’re planning to sell your Seattle home, get in touch with us. We know the intricacies of buying and selling real estate, and we will help you comply with all local, state, and federal real estate statutes.