What is a Seller’s Disclosure? Here’s Why It’s Important

Whether you’re about to purchase a new condo or sell your current home, there is a lot to learn and paperwork to sign. One of these critical documents is called a seller’s disclosure. 

A seller’s disclosure, also known as a property disclosure, is a document that sellers are legally required to provide buyers. This piece of paperwork will include all the undisclosed details related to the property that negatively affect its value. So before you finalize the buying or selling of a home, read on to find out why a seller’s disclosure is an essential part of any real estate transaction.

Why is a seller’s disclosure important?

A seller’s disclosure is a legal document protecting both the seller and the buyer. It protects the buyer by informing them of any issues or defects the home and surrounding property may have. It also safeguards the seller from being sued by the buyer after the transaction if the seller’s disclosure was completed correctly.

For buyers

The goal of the seller’s disclosure is to inform the buyer of the property’s history and future repairs so buyers can make an informed decision. If the seller’s disclosure reveals a major issue with the home, buyers can back out of the deal without losing earnest money during the due diligence period in GA. Any problems documented in the seller’s disclosure can also give the buyer some negotiating power, such as the price of the home or requesting the seller make any necessary repairs.

For sellers

The seller’s disclosure can only protect the seller if done accurately and honestly. If done correctly, this document will protect the seller from being held legally liable for any issues that may develop with the home in the future. This is only the case if the seller made the buyer fully aware of all home defects before the completed purchase. The seller only needs to disclose what is required by their state.

When should a seller provide the disclosure?

We like to have a seller fill out a disclosure during the listing period and have it on hand for buyers to look at prior to making an offer. The listing agent must be transparent with buyers about any known issues with the property, so some will do this upfront to make the process quicker.  In Georgia, The Georgia Association of Realtors provides a standard form the seller fills out.  

How a seller’s disclosure can impact a home sale

The seller’s disclosure can significantly impact the home selling process if a property has substantial issues. Buyers will need to decide if they’re comfortable with any significant issues disclosed and get a professional inspection to assess what it takes to handle the problem. As a buyer, it’s important to carefully review the seller’s disclosure packets with a real estate agent and during the home inspection. 

What are the standard real estate disclosures?

Each state has different requirements for seller disclosures – it’s best to check with your state’s guidelines. To help you get an idea of what to expect, here’s a list of standard disclosures: .

  • Hazards: High risk of natural disasters or threats like contamination, lead paint, radon, asbestos, and toxic mold.

  • Repairs: Any significant repairs the house may need and has had. Significant repairs would include structural, electrical, and plumbing issues.

  • Water damage: Flood risk or existing flood damage.

  • Missing items: The seller needs to list any items that will be removed after the sale, such as

  • Other possible disclosures: Other disclosures could include special historical districts, homeowners associations, and unpermitted improvements.

As a buyer, will I always receive a seller’s disclosure?

There are several circumstances in which a buyer may not receive a seller’s disclosure – this is known as a “no seller’s disclosure sale.” This means the seller is selling the property without disclosing any defects or issues that the buyer might need to know to make an informed decision.

  • A foreclosure or deed-in-lieu of foreclosure (usually applies to a bank-owned home)

  • A gift or other transfer to a parent, spouse, domestic partner, or child

  • Estate sales or bankruptcy sales

  • Investors flipping property very often do not fill out a sellers disclosure, many times citing that they have not lived in the property and therefore are not familiar with it. In GA we have a form called the disclosure of latent defects that require the seller to share what they know about the property during their time of ownership. Georgia law requires a seller to disclose latent defects in the seller's property to the buyer of the property of which the seller is aware, and which could not be discovered by the buyer upon a reasonably careful inspection of the property. A latent defect in a property is a defect that is hidden.

What happens if the sellers fail to disclose issues adequately?

If the seller fails to disclose or actively conceals problems they’re aware of that affect the property’s value, the buyer can sue. The seller can be subject to lawsuits for recovery of damages based on fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, and breach of contract. If the law doesn’t require you to disclose something, it’s best practice to find out if it may impact the buyer.

Even with a seller’s disclosure, don’t skip a home inspection

 

In addition to the seller’s disclosures, the buyer should always have an inspection done. No matter how thorough or trustworthy the seller may be, a seller’s disclosure is no substitute for a thorough home inspection by a licensed and qualified professional. Most buyers aren’t trained to look for and identify the issues that can affect the average home. Before you buy, it’s in your best interest to get an inspection.