Property defects must be disclosed
“Honesty in state, as well as individuals, will ever be found the soundest policy.” This is a quote from George Washington that when applied to the selling of real estate becomes one of the more import aspects of these transactions.
In Florida, sellers of residential property are obligated to disclose any known material facts or defects in the property. The seller must disclose any environmental hazards like the presence of radon gas or lead-based paint, shared walls or fences, easements and room additions or repairs not made with proper permits. The seller must also disclose any significant malfunctions or a defect in the existing home’s major systems.
In addition, the current property tax is a disclosure item, however, a buyer should not rely on the seller’s current property tax assessment. Property taxes change based on the sale price of the property as well as any improvements that may not currently be taxed at the time of sale.
A written form is provided to sellers by real estate brokers at the time the property is listed. This form goes into more detail including age of the roof and repair history, active termite activity or previous termite damage, sewage system and status of leaks or backups, status of well water, age and type of air conditioning and heating unit, problems with electrical system, list of and condition of appliances, proposed changes to the neighborhood that could affect the desirability of the property and underground tanks or toxic substances, among others.
If you’re purchasing a condominium, the condominium association must also disclose any problems associated with the common areas, upcoming increases in annual assessments or special assessments, and existing or threatened legal action. In addition, Florida law provides buyers of a condominium the right to read the condominium documents and review the financial papers of the association prior to finalizing the formal contract of sale. These are items that must be provided by the seller for the buyer’s inspection.
Sellers also are under no obligation to disclose why they are moving, including if they don’t like their neighbors or if their street has more rentals than they’re comfortable with. Sellers also are not required to disclose any psychological factors such as the home being the site of a homicide, suicide, death or ghosts. Although past tragedies may stigmatize the house, they are generally not interpreted as being a material fact that must be disclosed.
Real estate professions are required to disclose any material facts that could affect the value of a residential property which are not readily observable to the buyer. This is particularly true if the material defect might have caused the buyer to either withdraw his/her offer or renegotiate it.
Since Florida has an abundance of pools buyers and sellers should be aware of the Residential Swimming Pool Safety Act that went into effect in 2000. The act requires certain safety features to be installed on newly constructed homes to prevent drowning of a young child or medically frail elderly person. Some of the requirements are that the pool must be isolated from access to a home by an enclosure that meets the pool barrier requirement; there must be an approved safety pool cover and windows and doors that lead directly from the home to the pool be equipped with certain safety features.
This may all sound overwhelming, but basically it comes down to treating the potential buyer of your home the same as you would expect to be treated. If you just remember George and the cherry tree, you’ll be fine.