There are so many details to pay attention to when you’re buying a home. That can be hard because you’re also probably doing a whole bunch of other things at the same time, and you might feel a little overwhelmed.
But paying close attention to seller’s disclosures about your property is one of the very most important things you can do to make sure you’re buying the home you think you are. Otherwise, you might be in for an unpleasant surprise after the home is already yours.
Why Seller’s Disclosures Matter
Seller’s disclosure forms have a few purposes. First, they protect you by helping you understand as much as possible about the condition of the home you’re buying. Second, they protect the seller from possible future legal action. Because of this, it’s in their best interest to be as open and honest as possible about the home.
This is why it’s so important to read seller’s disclosures carefully. If you’ve reviewed the documents and haven’t objected to anything in them in a way that’s required by your purchase contract, you’ve accepted the home as it is. You won’t have recourse later.
Do I Still Need an Inspection?
Just a quick but important note: seller’s disclosures never replace an inspection on the home. This independent, third-party inspection of the home is still an incredibly important step in buying a home. Nothing replaces an inspection for uncovering potential issues with the home, especially ones homeowners aren’t aware of.
You’ll usually get the disclosures after going under contract, though you can still back out if something comes up in them. After that, you’ll go ahead and schedule your inspection.
Disclosures Required by the Federal Government
The federal government requires sellers to disclose that any home that was built before 1978 may have lead-based paint throughout the home. They also have to disclose any information they have about lead in their home.
Disclosures Required by the Utah Government
Utah has just one disclosure that is specifically required by state law, and that is for sellers to tell buyers if they know about the “use, storage, or manufacture” of methamphetamines in their home.
State law also mentions that sellers are specifically exempt from disclosing a homicide or suicide that happened in the home, a decontaminated methamphetamine lab that was in the home, or that someone with a life-ending disease lived in the home (such as AIDS).
How to Read Other Information on the Form
There are a lot of important sections on the Seller’s Property Condition Disclosure documents, but here are some of the main sections you’ll want to pay especially close attention to.
This section covers any known illegal or non-conforming uses of the property. It also includes any existing or threated legal action concerning the property, as well as any zoning issues.
The roof is a very important part of the property, so pay attention! Here’s where the owner discloses any known leaks, dry rot, moisture, or other structural issues with the roof. They can also mention roof replacements or repairs, as well as any existing warranties.
This section includes information about who provides water service to the property, any problems with it, and any information you may need to know about wells on the property.
The seller should list the current provider of the sewer services, as well as any past or present problems with the sewer lines and drains in the home (outside of the occasional clog).
Here’s where the seller discloses any past or present problems with the heating and cooling systems in the home. They should disclose any repairs made to the systems, as well.
This covers the entire exterior of the home, including peripherals like the driveway, sprinkler system, pool, and rain gutters. The sellers should mention any issues like moisture damage or rotting to any part of the exterior of the home. Utah’s older brick homes are especially likely to have issues with crumbling and cracks, so watch out for that.
Remodels and Additions
If the sellers have made any remodels or additions to the home (or if they’re aware of any before they lived in the home), they’ll be mentioned here. This includes structural modifications and alterations, as well as room additions and other major improvements to the home.
If you want to make sure these changes were done according to code, make a note of them. You can ask to see permits and decide how to proceed if the changes were made without necessary permits.
It’s especially important to pay attention to anything concerning the structure of the home, since these problems can be so expensive to fix. If there is any earth movement or sliding on the property (fairly common in older homes here in Utah), it should be listed in this section. There should also be information about any issues with the settlement of the soil around the home.
This section also includes problems with the walls or foundation of the home, or any shifting that has occurred in the home.
The seller should list any past or present problems with the electrical system, including switches and outlets. Utah’s older homes can have outdated electrical systems that can post a safety hazard as well as be unable to handle the electricity needs of modern homes, so pay close attention here.
Mold and Moisture
If the seller knows about any mold on the walls, ceilings, floors, or any other interior area of the home (but not minor mold in the bathroom, shower, tub, or sink), they must be disclosed here.
The seller should also discuss any issues with water or moisture in the basement or crawlspace of the home, including leakage or dampness. These issues can be caused by flooding, improper lot drainage, condensation, sewer overflow, leaking or broken pipes, and appliances that aren’t functioning correctly.
No matter where the issue is, sellers should describe the damage in detail and explain how it was fixed and how any reoccurrences will be prevented in the future.
The last section is where homeowners should list any insurance claims they’ve made against the home, which are key for helping you understand what kind of issues the home has had and the likelihood of them reoccurring in the future.
Need Some Help?
If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by the prospect of reading and understanding seller’s disclosures, never fear! That’s why I’m here—to help you understand exactly what you’re buying and how it may affect you in the future in your new home.