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For Sale by Owner Articles • - Home Selling Tips

What Should I Disclose?

By Robert Irwin
That's a question that every seller asks, yet knowing which items to put into a disclosure can be tricky. Should you disclose a crack in the foundation, spots of black mold, a leak in the roof, a tear in the carpet, a death in the house, a big glob of dirt on a wall?
The answer I always suggest is simply, "Yes!" Disclose it all (especially any black mold, which today is a concern of near hysterical proportions). Of course, you can attempt to fix a defect before you put the home up for sale, but you should probably disclose both the problem and the remedy.
It's important to understand the function of disclosures. It's to let the buyers know the true condition of your property, so that they can make a realistic offer. After all, a home located over a sinkhole is worth considerably less than a comparable home 1000 feet away on solid ground. Yet, if the buyers weren't aware of the sinkhole, they might make an unrealistically high offer for the first house.
As a seller, you might be inclined to say, "caveat emptor," let the buyers beware. Why should I tell them anything? The more I disclose, the lower their offer is likely to be!
True. However, you don't want to be in a situation where buyers unknowingly pay an unrealistically high price for your home, move in, and discover the sinkhole. You can be sure they will come after you for redress. And that can mean not only the costs of repair (by a contractor of their choice), but damages for their inconvenience and possibly more. Concealing problems in a home went out the window when buyers started suing sellers for failing to disclose known (and sometimes those that should be known!) defects.
Today, it's usually to the seller's advantage to disclose ALL problems with the home. The simple reason is that if you disclose it, and if the buyers purchase the home anyhow, it's far less likely they will come back after the sale to demand that you, the seller, do a costly fix.
Today, the federal government requires sellers to provide a lead disclosure to buyers. Most states also prescribe specific disclosures. And many buyers demand them as part of their offer. Which is one reason why most people prefer the services of an agent, to help with disclosures.
However, I was recently talking with Steve Udelson of and he pointed out that the disclosures a seller must make are the same regardless of whether or not you use an agent. Indeed, many agents hesitate to advise on disclosures for fear that you will later come back and blame them if the something goes wrong.
Further, you may be able to obtain a set of disclosures mandated for your state online. Thus, the disclosure issue probably should not be a determining factor for many people in deciding whether or not to list. You have to disclose either way.
By the way, knowing when to disclose is important. Some states and the federal government have specific time limits. For example, in California a seller has 3 days from receipt of the disclosures to disapprove of them and walk away from the deal.
Selling your home "as is" does not relieve you of the responsibility of disclosing defects. It just means that you will not correct those that you disclose.
Robert Irwin is the most prolific real estate writer in America having produced over 100 published books in the field. His TIPS & TRAPS McGraw-Hill series has sold well over a million copies and his FOR SALE BY OWNER KIT and FIND IT, BUY IT, FIX IT and other books have been strong sellers for Dearborn.
In addition Irwin writes a regular real estate column for The Wall Street Journal online and is introducing a new weekly column for
Irwin has sold his own property "by owner" and during over 30 years in the business has been a broker and consultant to lenders, agents, buyers and sellers.
He can be reached through his website

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