As a Seller, when you engage a realtor to list your home, or if you decide to sell it “By Owner,” you will likely be asked to fill out a “form” entitled SELLER’S PROPERTY DISCLOSURE. Many times, Sellers breeze through the disclosure statement very quickly, without putting much thought into their answers, and without paying enough attention to the “boxes” on the form that they are checking.
Approaching the Seller’s Property Disclosure in a careless manner is a big mistake and may lead to litigation down the road. Most Seller’s Property Disclosure forms contain a statement such as:
(The following information is based only upon Seller’s actual knowledge of the property’s condition. Seller can disclose only what they actually know. Seller may not know about all material or significant Items. You should have an independent professional home inspection to verify the condition of the property and determine the cost of repair, if any).
Many Sellers who are faced with an angry Buyer after closing (who is threatening litigation due to the Seller’s misrepresentations) often want to try to rely upon the above statement as an avoidance of liability (for example by saying –“I did not know about that problem” or “I knew there was a problem, but I thought it was fixed a long time ago.”)
We have discovered many situations in which the Sellers admitted that they were not careful when checking the boxes on the Seller’s Property Disclosure Form, not understanding or appreciating its importance in the process of selling a home.
If, for example, the Seller has rented the property and did not occupy it for a substantial period of time, the difference between checking the “No” box and “Don’t know” box can be critical.
In the sale of a residential property in Florida, a Seller has a duty to disclose to the Buyer any matters which are known to the Seller, but which are not reasonably ascertainable by the Buyer, that could affect the value of the property to the Buyer.
When problems are discovered in a home after its sale, a disgruntled Buyer will look to see if the Seller knew about the faulty condition and either did not disclose it or misrepresented its condition in the disclosure. So, if you are in doubt, as a Seller, disclose things clearly and thoroughly, and let the Buyer know that you disclosed, and make it the Buyer’s responsibility to inspect it further.
Seeking the advice of an experienced real estate attorney in the process of the purchasing or selling real estate is one of the wisest investments you can make.