Disclosure of Defects and Death When Selling Your Home

So you are thinking about selling your house.  Great, call me to get the process started! However, you are wondering what you have to disclose to the Realtor about your house.  Remember, we’re in this together, so it’s best to tell me about any concerns, ask questions, and be open to accepting advice.

Let’s first start with revealing any major defects you are seeing in your house.  All of these issues need to be noted on the Real Estate Condition Report.  As your Realtor, I’m always up-to-date on Wisconsin laws and will have the appropriate forms to fill out.  If you have a home in another state, talk to your local professional real estate agent for the proper documentation required by that state.

Here is what Wisconsin law says about the Residential Real Estate Condition Report Form that needs to be filled out with each real estate listing:

In this form, “am aware” means have notice or knowledge. In this form, “defect” means a condition that would have a significant adverse effect on the value of the property; that would significantly impair the health or safety of future occupants of the property; or that if not repaired, removed or replaced would significantly shorten or adversely affect the expected normal life of the premises.

Pretty straight forward!  Whether you lived in your home for just a few years, or over a decade, you should easily be able to answer these questions since you should know your home’s best features and flaws.  This condition form will ask you several questions about your house and hopefully these will be marked with NO issues.  Examples of some of the questions on this form…

  • I am aware of defects in the roof?
  • I am aware of defects in the electrical system?
  • I am aware of defects in part of the plumbing system (including the water heater, water softener and swimming pool) that is included in the sale?
  • I am aware of defects in the heating and air conditioning system (including the air filters and humidifiers)?
  • I am aware of defects in the basement or foundation (including cracks, seepage and bulges)?
  • Etc. Etc…

The thing to remember is most buyers want a home inspection before they finalize their purchase, and all of these questions are going to be answered during that inspection.  No one wants to call out flaws in their home since it could discourage potential buyers, but you need to be open and honest.  Anyway, if you don’t disclose something and the home inspector puts it in their report it doesn’t look good for you.  This negative will surely drive a potential buyer away fast.  It could also haunt you down the road and land you in court.  On the flip side, if you had any issues with any of these areas and took care of the repairs it is important to call it out.  

Most disclosure issues are handled with this state regulated form.  However, there is a federal law on disclosure of lead paint.  If your house was built before 1978, it may contain lead paint.  A disclosure form needs to be completed for that as well to let the potential buyers know about any tests you have done and any lead you are aware is present or exposed.  

So we talked about defects in the house, but what about the things you do not see?  One question that comes up quite often, is if you have to disclose a death in your house.  Of course it’s not anything that anybody wants to talk about because you could eliminate potential buyers, and it could hurt the property’s resale value.  In several states, you only need to disclose if it is within so many years and if it is by natural causes.  However, if a potential buyer asks if the death occurred even prior to three years ago, the seller has to tell the truth and respond.  Many states it only has to be disclosed if the buyer asks.  So what is Wisconsin’s law?

Wisconsin Statutes: 452.23(2)(a)

(2) A broker or salesperson is not required to disclose that the property was the site of a specific act or occurrence, if the act or occurrence had no effect on the physical condition of the property or any structures located on the property.

In my opinion, I would be upfront and provide that information.  In most cases, it’s going to come out anyways, especially if the potential buyers take the time to check out the area and talk to neighbors who have lived there for some time.  The last thing you want is to accept an offer, and the process stops dead in the water because your buyer found this out after the fact.  It is always best to do the right thing, and as your Realtor, I would want this out in the open.  Also remember, there are certain cultures who cannot live in a home where a death has occurred.  It’s just good practice to disclose the truth about anything that is asked of a property.

Everyone wants to focus on the best features of their home, and we will definitely call those things out.  If you have had defects and have taken care of them, we will provide that information as well!  A good thing is to keep a record and receipts of any repairs done.   That way potential buyers see how much you cared for your house and kept up with maintenance.  They say that honesty is the best policy, and I agree!