A seller’s disclosure is an important step when selling a house. Many buyers and sellers may not be aware of this, but all states mandate this step. Though the points to cover in your disclosure may differ as per the state where you own your property, a basic disclosure is necessary.
The main reason for this obligation from a seller is to safeguard the buyer against fraud, defects, and issues related to real estate. Most state laws mandate a list of common issues put down in a disclosure form that the seller has to fill in. Though the USA has a list of 51 sets of disclosure rules, what you disclose depends on where you stay. There are different rules for houses in California, Colorado, Florida and Alaska.
Understanding Sellers Disclosure Obligation
A seller’s disclosure, also called transfer disclosure, is a list of problems with the property. The seller must inform the buyer about these before finalizing the purchase. The disclosures include material defects, hidden defects, location-specific disclosures, situation-specific disclosures, and association rules if any. A material defect could be a cracked foundation while a hidden defect could be a leaky roof. Mine subsistence issues in Pennsylvania are an example of a situation-specific issue. Disclosing geothermal or volcanic zones in Hawaii is an example of location-specific disclosure.
According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, homes built before 1978 must disclose the use of lead-based paint. You can check the (Federal Emergency Management Agency) FEMA Flood Map to know if the property falls in the floodplain and needs flood insurance. All these often require the assistance of real estate agents or companies to simplify the process. You would fill out the sellers disclosure Florida state form when your property is listed, including the MLS listing.
Florida Regulatory Laws Governing Sellers Disclosure
Many laws govern property disclosure rules in Florida. Some of the important ones are – Florida Statute §689.25, Florida Statute §689.261, Florida Statute §475.278, Florida Statute §404.056(5), Florida Statute §161.57, Florida Statute §720.401, and Florida Statute §718.503 (1), (2), and (3).
- Florida Statute §475.278 deals with real estate licenses, broker relationships, agents, and notices.
- Florida Statute §689.25 states that death, suicide, or homicide is not a material defect and is not compulsory disclosure.
- Florida Statute §404.056(5) deals with environmental radiation standards, particularly the danger of radon gas.
- Florida Statute §161.57 is a coastal property disclosure law and mandates declaration of potential damages and compliance with rules.
- Florida Statute §720.401 mandates the seller to pass on all information about the Homeowners Association connected to the property.
- According to Florida Statute §718.503 (1), (2), and (3), the seller must inform all rules, bylaws, details, and specificities related to owning a condominium in Florida.
- Lastly, Florida Statute §689.261 states that the taxes to be paid by the buyer will be reassessed and may differ from that paid by the seller.
What is Included in Seller’s Disclosure in Florida?
Your disclosure form must mention various fronts such as environmental problems, government checks, structural issues, drainage, pests, and plumbing. Let us understand the most common points.
Structural defects and appliances: This includes problems with construction, materials used, electrical, mechanical, and plumbing issues. Mention if they are up to date.
Plumbing systems: This involves information from potable water to the septic tank system. You must include facts on water treatment systems, unused tanks/wells, and sewage systems.
Spa/Pools on the property: Swimming pools or hot tubs built after the year 2000 must have installed safety measures such as pool cover, enclosures, or pool barriers.
Drainage and coastal area: You must mention if the property falls in the coastal area or floodplain. Also mention if the property has a history of water intrusion.
Pests and other infestations: You have to declare the presence of any pests, termites, fungi, or mold affecting the property. Declare if there was a problem in the past.
Sinkholes and environmentally important information: Laws related to seller disclosure in Florida require you to declare sinkholes in the property or any previous insurance claim on sinkholes. You have to announce any environmental issue arising from the use of lead-based paint, asbestos, radon gas, or chemical storage. You have to also disclose whether the property has an archeological significance, a mangrove, or other sensitive sites.
Laws related to Home Owners Association: In Florida, a seller has to disclose all points related to HOA such as fees, restrictions, rules, etc. You also have to declare the property’s boundaries, roads, walls, driveway, and any disputes with neighbors.
What if Sellers Disclosure is Not Comprehensive?
Many sellers make the general blunder of not disclosing all defects. Either they do not consider the defect important enough to disclose or fear that the price of the property may get affected drastically. By doing this, you may open yourself to getting sued by the buyer. The buyer may charge you with fraud proving that you were lying about the defects. If the buyer manages to prove that the property had a material defect that you knew but did not declare, you may lose the case.
To avoid complications, it is wise to hire professional help – both from top real estate companies as well as property inspectors. As a seller, disclose everything in your knowledge that you cannot fix. If in doubt, take the help of a home inspector. If the buyer still faces issues after the sale, you can always claim not knowing about it. You may also consider putting in a mediation clause in the sale contract so that a lawsuit will not be necessary.
Since Florida is not a ‘Caveat Emptor’ state, the role of a seller’s disclosure is very important in sale of properties. Take care to get the right advice from the right people before you sign off your home.