Top 5 Reasons You Shouldn’t FSBO
In today’s market, with home prices rising and a lack of inventory, some homeowners may consider trying to sell their home on their own, known in the industry as a For Sale by Owner (FSBO).
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There are several reasons why this might not be a good idea for the vast majority of sellers. Here are the top five reasons:
1. Exposure to Prospective Buyers
Recent studies have shown that 95% of buyers search online for a home. That is in comparison to only 17% looking at print newspaper ads. Most real estate agents have an internet strategy to promote the sale of your home. Do you?
2. Results Come from the Internet
Where did buyers find the home they actually purchased?
• 49% on the Internet
• 31% from a Real Estate Agent
• 7% from a Yard Signs
• 1% from Newspapers
The days of selling your house by just putting up a sign and putting it in the paper are long gone. Having a strong internet strategy is crucial.
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3. There Are Too Many People to Negotiate With
Here is a list of some of the people with whom you must be prepared to negotiate if you decide to For Sale By Owner:
• The buyer who wants the best deal possible
• The buyer’s agent who solely represents the best interest of the buyer
• The buyer’s attorney (in some parts of the country)
• The home inspection companies, which work for the buyer and will almost always find some problems with the house
• The appraiser if there is a question of value
4. FSBOing Has Become More And More Difficult
The paperwork involved in selling and buying a home has increased dramatically as industry disclosures and regulations have become mandatory. This is one of the reasons that the percentage of people FSBOing has dropped from 19% to 8% over the last 20+ years.
The 8% share represents the lowest recorded figure since the National Association of Realtors began collecting data in 1981.
5. You Net More Money When Using an Agent
Many homeowners believe that they will save the real estate commission by selling on their own. Realize that the main reason buyers look at FSBOs is because they also believe they can save the real estate agent’s commission. The seller and buyer can’t both save the commission.
A study by Collateral Analytics revealed that FSBOs don’t actually save anything, and in some cases, may be costing themselves more, by not listing with an agent. One of the main reasons for the price difference at the time of sale is:
“Properties listed with a broker that is a member of the local MLS will be listed online with all other participating broker websites, marketing the home to a much larger buyer population. And those MLS properties generally offer compensation to agents who represent buyers, incentivizing them to show and sell the property and again potentially enlarging the buyer pool.”
If more buyers see a home, the greater the chances are that there could be a bidding war for the property. The study showed that the difference in price between comparable homes of size and location is currently at an average of 6% this year.
Why would you choose to list on your own and manage the entire transaction when you can hire an agent and not have to pay anything more?
Before you decide to take on the challenges of selling your house on your own, sit with a real estate professional in your marketplace and see what they have to offer. Did you go the FSBO route? What did you learn? Are you considering going FSBO? What questions or concerns do you have? Sound of on our Facebook Page, Twitter or Instagram feeds or connect with us on LinkedIn. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICEtm email newsletter for great tips for homeowners and sellers delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.
5 Crucial Questions Home Buyers Should Ask Sellers Before Moving In
Moving into a home you’ve just bought is exciting—and sometimes exasperating. That’s because, although you might love your new place, you don’t know it all that well—which means that sooner or later, you’re bound to end up in a situation where you’re floundering cluelessly with the circuit breaker, or petting a neighbor’s seemingly adorable Pomeranian who nearly nips off a finger. Home, sweet home, right?
Yet you’d be surprised by how many of these unfortunate surprises home buyers can circumvent merely by asking the person who sold them the home some pointed questions before moving in. Sure, you’ll also be soaking up intel from the seller’s disclosure agreement, the home inspector who gave a thumbs-up to the place, and eventually even the neighbors. But truth be told, there’s nothing better than hearing about a home straight from someone who’s been living there for umpteen years. So go ahead and ask!
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Just keep in mind that some sellers might feel tight-lipped if they think your questions might jeopardize the sale. As such, many of these questions are best asked near the end of the process—like during your walk-through or at closing.
1. Are there any special quirks about the house?
A thorough inspector will point out any oddities that are unsafe or devalue the house, but only someone who’s lived there will have a handle on all the unique characteristics worth mentioning—light switches in unexpected places, doors and windows that stick up or down, poltergeists, you name it. This question is most effectively asked during the final walk-through.
RECOMMENDED: ‘I’m wondering if you can tell me anything I might need to anticipate moving forward?’ Be subtle but persistent.
2. Have you had any past problems with the house that you’ve fixed?
True, sellers are often required to disclose most existing problems or issues related to the home. But what about past problems that have since been repaired?
RECOMMENDED: ‘I’ve read the disclosure statement. Is there anything else that has happened or that you’ve done that would be helpful to know?’ Use the disclosure as a jumping-off point to learn about what’s not listed.
3. Where are the water shut-off valve, sump pump, circuit box, and more?
Hopefully, the home inspector will locate all of these things and point them out to the new buyer as part of educating them about their new house, But not all inspectors do. So these are some important safety questions.
Ask the seller to show you not only the location of these valves, switches, and pumps, but also how they work. If you’re moving into an older home, chances are that many of the utility features will be unique in their operations, so rather than fumble around blindly, it’s a no-brainer to lean on the seller.
4. How is the neighborhood?
This is a great question to help establish rapport between buyer and seller, and is also best asked near the end of the buying process.
RECOMMENDED: ‘Tell me about the neighborhood.’ Keep it light.
Often the good, the bad, and the ugly will tumble out if approached conversationally. While you’re at it, if you’re new to the area, consider asking the seller for recommendations for everything from grocery stores to their favorite restaurants.
5. Is there anything you want to leave behind?
This one doesn’t so much help you get to know your home, but it might result in a few nice bonuses. It’s worth a shot to see if the seller is willing to part with large items he or she might not want to bother moving.
Most things that are being left, such as appliances, are dealt with in the original contract, but as it gets closer to closing, sellers are often wanting to unload some other things too. You might get lucky and wind up with something great.
Are you a recent homebuyer? Do you have questions you wished you asked? Let us know on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page or on our Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram Feeds. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICE email newsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.
5 Reasons You Should Never Buy or Sell a Home Without a Real Estate Agent
You’re DIY’ing this real estate thing, and you think you’re doing pretty well—after all, any info you might need is at your fingertips online, right? That and your own judgment.
Oh, dear home buyer (or seller!)—we know you can do it on your own. But you really, really shouldn’t. This is likely the biggest financial decision of your entire life, and you need Real Estate Agent if you want to do it right.
1. They have loads of expertise
Want to check the MLS for a 4B/2B with an EIK and a W/D? Real estate has its own language, full of acronyms and semi-arcane jargon, and your Real Estate Agent is trained to speak that language fluently.
Plus, buying or selling a home usually requires dozens of forms, reports, disclosures, and other technical documents. Real Estate Agents have the expertise to help you prepare a killer deal—while avoiding delays or costly mistakes that can seriously mess you up.
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2. They have turbocharged searching power
The Internet is awesome. You can find almost anything—anything! And with online real estate listing sites such as yours truly, you can find up-to-date home listings on your own, any time you want. But guess what? Real Estate Agents have access to even more listings. Sometimes properties are available but not actively advertised. A Real Estate Agent can help you find those hidden gems.
Plus, a good local Real Estate Agent is going to know the search area way better than you ever could. Have your eye on a particular neighborhood, but it’s just out of your price range? Your Real Estate Agent is equipped to know the ins and outs of every neighborhood, so she can direct you toward a home in your price range that you may have overlooked.
3. They have bullish negotiating chops
Any time you buy or sell a home, you’re going to encounter negotiations—and as today’s housing market heats up, those negotiations are more likely than ever to get a little heated.
You can expect lots of competition, cutthroat tactics, all-cash offers, and bidding wars. Don’t you want a savvy and professional negotiator on your side to seal the best deal for you?
And it’s not just about how much money you end up spending or netting. A Real Estate Agent will help draw up a purchase agreement that allows enough time for inspections, contingencies, and anything else that’s crucial to your particular needs.
4. They’re connected to everyone
Real Estate Agents might not know everything, but they make it their mission to know just about everyone who can possibly help in the process of buying or selling a home. Mortgage brokers, real estate attorneys, home inspectors, home stagers, interior designers—the list goes on—and they’re all in your Real Estate Agent’s network. Use them.
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5. They’re your sage parent/data analyst/therapist—all rolled into one
The thing about Real Estate Agents: They wear a lot of different hats. Sure, they’re salespeople, but they actually do a whole heck of a lot to earn their commission. They’re constantly driving around, checking out listings for you. They spend their own money on marketing your home (if you’re selling). They’re researching comps to make sure you’re getting the best deal.
And, of course, they’re working for you at nearly all hours of the day and night—whether you need more info on a home or just someone to talk to in order to feel at ease with the offer you just put in. This is the biggest financial (and possibly emotional) decision of your life, and guiding you through it isn’t a responsibility Real Estate Agents take lightly.
Did you try the DIY route and the go Agent? Tell us about your experience. Sound of on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page, our Twitter or LinkedIn Feeds or on our Instagram account. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICE email newsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox. You may unsubscribe at any time.
6 Bad Habits to Avoid If You Hope to Sell Your Home in 2017
Everyone has a few flaws. But if you plan to sell your New Jersey home in 2017, these foibles can literally cost you—we’re talking tens of thousands of dollars. What’s more, many homeowners may not even be aware that certain actions can hurt their odds of selling their home (that is, until it sits on the market with no takers).
To help clue you in, here’s a list of regrettable blunders to kick to the curb starting now, even if you plan to put your home on the market next year:
Bad Habit No. 1: Overimproving your home
Dying to install new kitchen cabinets or retile your master bath? Home sellers often assume any upgrades they make to their home will pay them back in full once they sell, but that’s rarely the case. On average you will recoup just about 64% of the money you spend on renovations once you sell—and certain improvements can actually work against you if they’re unusual or undesirable in your market.
For instance, as much as you may be dying for a bidet in your bathroom, many others may not. Likewise, even if you consider a new swimming pool a plus, many homeowners don’t want the hassle of maintaining it (or the dangers if they have young kids).
Do this instead: Check out blog post on Home Improvements that offer the Biggest Return on Investment to see which upgrades provide the best value – and ask your Agent for advice on which amenities are hot (or not) on the Jersey Shore.
Bad Habit No. 2: Renovating without permits
We know it’s a pain to apply for permits before you knock down that wall or add a deck, but this corner-cutting will come back and bite you when you decide to sell. Without proper permits, buyers may worry whether the work done on your place is up to code—and as a result refrain from making an offer.
Do this instead: Don’t be a scofflaw; pull necessary permits. Usually, building permits are required for any renovation that involves opening/building walls, electrical, and plumbing changes.
Bad Habit No. 3: Limiting showing hours
Sure, no one wants to leave their home at dinnertime. But buyers are busy juggling work, family, and looking for a new home. If you limit showings to a few hours on weekends, you might miss a potential sale.
Do this instead: Stay flexible and cooperate with buyer’s agents who want to show your house, even if it’s inconvenient.
Plus, limiting showing times gives buyers the impression that the you may be a “difficult” seller. That can turn them off even more.
Bad Habit No. 4. Overlooking curb appeal
Even if you lavish tons of attention on prepping the inside of your home for buyers, it’s easy to overlook the outside. But keep in mind, your curb appeal is the very first impression buyers have of your home, so it pays to put some elbow grease into prettying up the exterior, too.
Do this instead: Make sure your paint job is pristine and your lawn is tidy and mowed. Also replace dead shrubs, prune trees, put out some potted plants, mulch garden beds, and freshen mailboxes.
Bad Habit No. 5: Relying heavily on open houses
Open houses were a great way to sell a house in, like, 1975. These days, the vast majority of houses are sold through the Internet.
Do this instead: While you can and should hold open houses, don’t depend on them too much. Look for Agents who mine for buyers by using the Internet and Social Media.
Bad Habit No. 6: Not following your Agent’s advice
Sure, you no doubt know more about your home than anyone else. But your Real Estate Agent knows more about how to sell it. And your Agent may make some suggestions you might not like to hear, like that you need a new paint job or that the asking price you had in mind needs to be lowered a bit. It’s tempting to take offense or just ignore this advice, but if you do, you could risk seeing your house sit on the market and grow stale.
Do this instead: Listen to your Agent. That doesn’t mean blindly following all advice. But when it comes to pricing, consider the comps your agent presents, not your gut feeling or wishful thinking. Agents buy and sell hundreds of houses in their career; you’ll probably buy and sell a handful in your lifetime. You’re paying for their experience, so follow their advice.
Want advice about selling your home? Contact us today for a free consultation or visit us on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly HOME ADVICE™ email newsletter for articles and tips like these delivered straight to your inbox.
5 Reasons to Google Your Address
Search-engine sleuthing is worth the effort to unearth the niceties — and perhaps negatives — about a prospective home.
There’s probably not a day that goes by that you don’t Google something — the weather, a foreign phrase, directions, or news, just to name a few. With all the intel Google can provide, it’s practically a crime not to Google your address, especially when you’re searching for a new home (whether you’re hunting Bradley Beach, NJ real estate for a grand wrap-around porch or Point Pleasant homes with ocean views.
Here’s what you could find:
1. Scope the “street-view” situation
We can’t transport ourselves Star Trek–style to other places … yet, so the next best experience may be Google’s Street View, sort of a pre-virtual-reality experience. Simply type in an address, and if there’s an image of the property in the results, click on it.
“This allows you to view up and down the street, see the homes next door, [or learn] whether the home is on a busy highway or next to a local convenience store,” says Patrick Parker, Broker and Owner of Patrick Parker Realty in Bradley Beach, NJ.
Other factors to note while on your Google stroll? Linda, a current Jersey Shore house hunter, suggests scoping out yard size, proximity to neighbors, how many trees are on the property and the privacy provided by them, a view of the front of the home, a view of the neighbors’ homes (such as any nearby eyesores or hoarders), and the size of nearby roads. Don’t forget to use the aerial view while you’re at it, suggests Linda of Ocean Township, NJ. “While it’s not 100% accurate all the time, it can give [you] a quick sense of if a home is going to need a new roof soon.”
A caveat: Google Street View can be outdated, so it’s possible you could be looking at old news. The house you’re interested in might have been newly renovated, but you wouldn’t know that if the remodel happened after Google was there. “My house is an example of this,” says Jennifer of Highlands, NJ; search-engine expert with PHANTOM POWER Marketing. “If you search for my address, you’ll see photos of a house with no landscaping instead of the beautiful house we renovated.”
2. Find out if the home is a “flip”
Unless you’re buying a new-construction house, the home you’re searching has probably acquired some history. And since the walls won’t talk, you’ll need to be a bit creative in your sleuthing to detect just who owned the place last.
Perhaps take things one step further suggests Deb Collins, Broker and Manager at Patrick Parker Realty. DIY’ers can take it a bit further to get to know the current owners. Look up owner names from the property-tax records and Google them. You may want to know whether the sellers are investors or folks who have lived in the house for 20 years. “Some buyers choose to approach homes being sold by investors a bit differently from those who have been living there and caring for the home for decades,” says Collins. “But even if Google leaves unanswered questions, your real estate expert will help you navigate this process,” Collins continues.
3. Avoid health concerns
The last thing anyone wants is to find out their dream home is located near a former meth lab or directly under a busy flight path. These aren’t just concerns for comfort; in unfortunate (and rare) cases, homes can be health hazards. When house hunting, be sure to search for whether or not the home is in a safe area. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration maintains a database of homes that have been identified as drug labs, and some of these properties require intensive, expensive cleanup before they can be healthfully inhabited. Radon and industrial and airport zones are also pretty easily discoverable with a Google search and, in most states, via disclosures that most sellers will provide. (Some people find living near an airport or other noisy zone impacts their sleep, even if there is no chemical concern.)
One important note mentions Patrick Parker Realty Broker Dan Black is that “seller disclosure laws are different across states but any question you ask – whether it is required to be disclosed by law or not – must be answered.”
4. Imagine your life there
One of the deciding factors for saying “yes” to a house is if you can imagine yourself living there. Seeing listing photos and stats can let you know whether the house meets your specifications, but sometimes it might still be difficult to really imagine yourself there. Googling can help.
“While walking through some homes recently with a young family exploring new Ocean Grove real estate from the New York City, their 7-year-old was asking, ‘Can I play on the trampoline at the next house?’” says Yvette Ambrose of Patrick Parker Realty. “Had he wanted to, that child could have mapped his route to his future elementary school and checked out its test scores, all while sitting in the back of his parents’ car.”
And while kids can scope out their potential new school and spot signs of other kids living nearby, you might map your drive to the office, learn whether there’s a local Jersey Shore farmers market nearby, check out proximity to shopping and restaurants, distance to New Jersey Beaches or major transportation.
5. Scope out potential growth
Google your potential new neighborhood’s nearest major street or intersection for permit applications that have been filed recently. You might get lucky. If not, try Googling the city or county planning departments. This can help you discover Monmouth County community plans for expansion in that area. Will you jump for joy to learn that Whole Foods is coming to town? Or is that just the sort of growth you’re trying to escape? Are you excited for the upscale transportation hub coming to Long Branch, NJ or new home construction in Bradley Beach, NJ?
Reading the online applications — and any notes from city council meetings discussing the permits — might help you understand the landscape of community-development issues at hand.
What surprising information has Google revealed about a home during your house hunt? Share your stories on the Patrick Parker Realty Facebook Page, Twitter Feed or on LinkedIn. Plus don’t forget to subscribe to the monthly Patrick Parker Realty email newsletter for articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox.
Disclosure of Property Conditions When Selling a Home
Selling a home and wondering what physical conditions at the premises need to be disclosed to a potential new buyer? Everyone wants to present a positive picture of their home, especially during a slow real estate market. But it is usually in a seller’s best interest to thoroughly disclose any defects which are not readily observable.
Most residential resale properties are sold in “as is” condition. This is usually intended to mean that the buyers have a right to make whatever inspections they seek and the sellers are not responsible after closing for any conditions later discovered by the buyers.
However, selling a home “as is” does not mean that a seller can deliberately misrepresent the condition of the property. Sellers may be liable for common law fraud if they make a material misrepresentation of any present or past fact which they know or believe to be false, they intend the buyer to rely on, the buyer does rely on it and damages result. The Jewish Center of Sussex Cty. v. Whale 86 N.J. 619, 624-25 (1981). In such instances, a buyer may be entitled to rescind or terminate their contract with the seller, or may seek damages from the seller.
Our New Jersey courts have defined misrepresentation to include the failure to disclose certain conditions. In Weintraub v. Krobatsch 64 N.J. 445 (1974) the buyers inspected a home during the day and found it acceptable. Prior to closing, however, the buyers visited the property when it was dark and were astonished to discover that the house was heavily infested with crawling insects. The buyer refused to close. When the litigation which later ensued reached the New Jersey Supreme Court, the Court held that a seller is not only liable to a buyer for affirmative and intentional material misrepresentations, but also for non-disclosure of defects known to a seller, unobservable by buyers, and where the facts not disclosed would be of significant materiality to the buyers’ decision to purchase. In such situations, a buyer would be entitled to rescind their contract.
Thus, our courts have indicated that sellers risk a contract being rescinded, or incurring liability for damages, if sellers do not disclose a defective condition which is 1) latent, 2) not reasonably observable to the buyer and 3) significant to the buyer’s decision to purchase Correa v. Maggiore196 N.J. Super. 273 (App. Div. 1984).
Real estate brokers have similar responsibilities concerning disclosure issues. In addition to possible claims of common law fraud, realtors may also be subject to the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act N.J.S.A. 56:8-1 et seq. Under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, a real estate broker representing a seller of a home previously occupied may be liable (in addition to affirmative acts of misrepresentation) for acts of non-disclosure of a defective condition if the condition was known to the broker, but not readily observable to the buyer. Strawn v. Canuso 140 N.J. 43, 58-59, 65 (1995). (Subsequent to this decision, a statute was passed to address disclosure obligations for newly constructed residential real estate. N.J.S.A. 46:3C-1 et seq.) In instances of non-disclosure, it must be shown that the broker knowingly concealed a material fact about the premises with the intention that the buyers would rely on the concealment. N.J.S.A. 56:8-2, Leon v. Rite Aid Corp. 340 N.J. Super. 462, 469 (App. Div. 2001).
Other examples of failure to disclose conditions which created liability for sellers or realtors and which have been addressed in New Jersey court cases include:
- Failing to disclose that a tennis court would be constructed on an adjoining property. Tobin v. Paparone Construction Co. 137 N.J. Super. 518 (Law Div. 1975)
- Concealment of a defective septic system. DiBernardo v. Mosley 206 N.J. Super. 371 (App. Div. 1986) cert. denied 103 N.J. 503 (1986).
In response to the potential pitfalls involving disclosure issues, most real estate brokers now provide sellers with an extensive disclosure form to complete and sign. This form is then provided to potential buyers. Completing this form accurately and thoroughly helps to protect the seller (and the realtor) from claims of misrepresentation or non-disclosure.
Download the New Jersey State Seller Disclosure Form
As a homeowner, what have you experienced when it comes to disclosures? As a buyer did you have a negative experience? How did you handle it? As a seller did you face challenges or questions? What did you do? Tell us in Comments, on Facebook or on Twitter. And don’t forget to subscribe to the Patrick Parker Realty monthly eNewsletter for tips, guides and articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.
Source: Stark & Stark
“The Watcher” and Seller Disclosure
By now you have probably heard about the family in New Jersey allegedly being scared by a stalker who calls himself “the Watcher” clearly obsessed with the family’s new Westfield home. The Watcher has been after the family for the past year, ever since they purchased their new six-bedroom, $1.3 million home. Three days after buying the house, the family began receiving regular letters from the Watcher.
The family are suing the previous owners, claiming that they knew of the The Watcher’s letters but failed to disclose any information while selling the property. They still haven’t moved into the million-dollar house and don’t plan to. They also can’t sell the house because the Watcher is watching it, and now everybody knows it.
So, were the previous owners who sold their staulked home required to disclose this information to the buyers?
Jack Feinstein, a lawyer and director of the Rutgers Civil Justice Clinic at Rutgers Law School in Newark, said the sellers are required to disclose latent defects in the house, that involves such issues and termite infestation. This kind of claim, about a possible stalker, is something completely different, said Feinstein who has 40 years of experience in real estate law.
“I’ve never seen this kind of allegation,” He said of the claims in the lawsuit.
To make a case, the plaintiff would have to show how long the prior owners had known about the letters, and whether the messages appeared to be credible and could be taken as a serious threat, Feinstein said.
Charles Sullivan, a law professor at Seton Hall Law School, said some states have laws requiring the disclosure of tragic incidents that occurred in a house such as murders.
“There’s a duty on the part of the seller to disclose to the buyer any defect that would impact the marketability of a property,” Sullivan said about laws in those other states.
But New Jersey does not have such laws, he said. “There probably would not be a duty to disclose this,” Sullivan said referring to the letters in the Westfield case.
Whether you’re a buyer or a seller, here are six things you should know about real estate disclosures:
1. What is a disclosure?
Disclosure statements, which can come in a variety of forms, are the buyer’s opportunity to learn as much as they can about the property and the seller’s experience in it.
Potential seller disclosures range from knowledge of leaky windows to loud neighbors to information about a major construction or development project nearby. Not only do disclosure documents serve to inform buyers, they can protect the sellers from future legal action. It is the seller’s chance to lay out anything that can negatively affect the value, usefulness or enjoyment of the property.
Leaking windows — bad coincidence?
A buyer once called after the first rainstorm of the season. The windows in the master bedroom were leaking. We checked back on the disclosure documents from the sale and there wasn’t any mention of the leaks. Nothing showed up in the property inspection report at the time of escrow, either.
Unfortunately for the buyers, this is part of homeownership. This could be the result of something that was building over time. I thought that was the end of it. The same client called back a few weeks later. They had workers out to check on the siding. That prompted their neighbor to inquire what they were up to. According to the neighbor, the previous owner of my client’s property had the same siding issues and had discussed it with the neighbor.
Given this new information, it was clear the previous seller had not properly disclosed. The buyers do more investigation, got bids and understand what the issues were. Armed with the knowledge of the neighbor and the approximate costs, they went back to the seller, through his agent. Though it did not turn into a lawsuit, the seller took responsibility and the situation was resolved quickly and fairly.
But too often, the lack of proper disclosure can result in a lawsuit. We know of a story in which a buyer bought a house, with the seller disclosing that a kitchen renovation was done without permits. A few years later, that buyer went to sell the property but didn’t disclose that the previous owner had renovated the kitchen without a permit. The new buyer wanted to do some electrical work with a permit. The city inspector discovered that some things had not been done to code. The inspector dug deeper and realized that much of the kitchen renovation (both plumbing and electrical) was not to code. The new buyer was on the hook for ripping out the kitchen and doing it over. A lawsuit arose between the current owner and the second seller for not disclosing. The original sellers had covered themselves, but the second seller had not.
2. How does a seller go about making a disclosure to the buyer?
Disclosure laws vary from state to state, even down to the city and county level. California has some of the most stringent disclosure requirements. Often, sellers there are required to complete or sign off on over 50 pages of documents, such as a Natural Hazards Disclosure Statement, Lead Based Paint Disclosure, Advisories about Market Conditions and even Megan’s Law Disclosures.
Depending on where you live, sellers can be on the hook for what they disclose (or fail to) for up to ten years. I’ve seen agents and sellers take all types of approaches when dealing with property disclosures. More than anything, I always tell sellers to err on the side of caution. If you know it, disclose it. If you try to hide something, it can come back to bite you long after the sale and it is just not worth it.
Disclosure typically comes in the form of boilerplate documents (put together by the local or state Realtor association), where the seller is responsible for answering a series of yes/no questions detailing their home and their experience there.
Download the New Jersey State Seller Disclosure Form
Aside from the boilerplate documents a seller is required to complete, if there is any written (or sometimes verbal) communication regarding something negative about the property, it should be disclosed to the buyer. For example, there was a property for sale with a dispute over a tree on the property line and whose responsibility it was. The neighbor faxed a letter to the seller’s real estate agent documenting the dispute. This immediately became a disclosure item that both the seller and buyer needed to sign off on.
Bottom line: Disclosure statements are legal documents that can stand up in court.
3. What do sellers typically disclose to potential buyers?
The work and upgrades sellers have done to their property are a common disclosure, whether the work was done with or without permits. If done with permits, buyers are advised to cross check the seller’s disclosure with the city building permit report. Doing work without the city signing off with a permit is a key disclosure. If the work was not approved by the city, it may not have been performed to code and may cause a fire or health hazard. Buyers should independently investigate any non-permit work that was done.
Other common disclosures include the existence of pets, termite problems, neighborhood nuisances, any history of property line disputes, and defects or malfunctions with major systems or appliances. Disclosure documents often ask sellers if they are involved in bankruptcy proceedings, if there any liens on the property, and so on. Failure to disclose can result in a messy conflict with the buyer after the sale.
Some disclosure documents are very detailed. For instance, among the questions posed by the San Francisco Association of Realtors disclosure statement are:
- Is there any non-tempered glass on shower or sliding doors?
- Have there been any unusual odor problems in the neighborhood?
- Was there any death on the property in the last three years?
4. Is a disclosure the same as an inspection? Are the two related?
A disclosure is something given to the buyer by the seller documenting their knowledge of the property. It is not the same thing as an inspection; because there are things the seller may not be aware of that an inspection brings to light.
This is why a property inspection should always be done by the buyer while in escrow. The inspector will check the property out from top to bottom, many times verifying what the seller has disclosed but sometimes bringing to light new issues. Often, we will see sellers hire a property inspector before going on the market. It seems backwards, but this is the sellers’ opportunity to hire an independent party to inspect the property, in case they missed or were not aware of something.
5. When does the buyer typically receive a seller’s disclosure statements?
In most markets, disclosure documents are provided to buyers once the seller has accepted their offer. In addition to their inspections or loan contingency, the buyer has an opportunity to review the seller’s disclosures. If the buyer discovers something negative about the property through disclosure, he can usually back out of the offer without losing his escrow deposit.
In some markets, sellers provide these disclosures to the buyers even before they receive an offer. Some sellers prefer to have buyers know everything they need to know up front. This is also smart because it saves everyone time, hassle and expense by preventing deals from falling apart once they’re in escrow.
Buyers are required to sign off on disclosure documents and reports. So it’s important to review them carefully and ask questions if you need to.
Furthermore, most disclosure laws require that you disclose information beyond basic facts about the state of repair of your home. Toxic mold, unused old fuel oil tanks buried in your yard, and termite damage must be disclosed in many states.
And because lead paint has become a concern in older homes – built before 1978 – federal law requires that sellers must disclose any information they know about the possibility of lead paint in the home. That means that if you’ve had tests done on the paint, you must disclose the results. If you know only that your house was built before 1978 and that it has not been painted since, you must also disclose that.
6. It’s a Local Thing: Disclosure in New Jersey
Disclosure sounds daunting, and it should be taken seriously. But don’t think of it as an obstacle to selling your home. And don’t think of it as a legal quagmire. Sellers who immediately offer potential buyers a written disclosure report generally get an excellent response from buyers, who like the idea that the seller isn’t trying to hide anything. Couple the state-required disclosure report with a report from a certified home inspector, and you’ve just added to the desirability of your home. It helps if your home is in perfect shape. But even if it’s not, buyers will appreciate your honesty.
- Get a copy of your state’s disclosure form. Most states now have them on a Web site for easy access and downloading.
Download the New Jersey State Seller Disclosure Form
- If you have a real estate agent or lawyer, have them help you with any questions you have about the form. If you’re selling on your own and you really are baffled by the state’s disclosure form, you can always pay an experienced real estate agent or lawyer for 30 minutes of their time to help you fill out the form. In general, however, the forms are not complicated and they’re not intended to be tricky.
- Full disclosure upfront is the way to go. In some ways, providing full disclosure can actually help a seller. As a Realtor reviewing disclosures with potential buyers, I like to see a comprehensive set of disclosure documents. It shows that the seller is thorough and upfront. This goes a long way toward giving buyers peace of mind, and in this market, anything you can do to move buyers off the dime is worth considering.
What do you think about the Watcher? Should the seller have disclosed this information? What should the buyers do now? Tell us in Comments, on Facebook or on Twitter. And don’t forget to subscribe to the Patrick Parker Realty monthly eNewsletter for tips, guides and articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Patrick Parker Realty.
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