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The Commonwealth Blog

Monday, April 17, 2017

Home Sellers: Know What You Need to Disclose

If you’re selling a home in Massachusetts, the issues you’re legally obligated to disclose are limited. That’s because Massachusetts is a caveat emptor (“buyer beware”) state, and it’s the buyer’s responsibility to get a home inspection and ask the seller the right questions.

However, there are two things you’re legally required to disclose: lead paint and the presence of a septic system.

Lead Paint

Federal law requires that you tell buyers if there’s any lead paint in your home. Lead-based paints were banned in the US in 1978, so if your home was built after 1978, you’re in the clear. If you live in an older home, you’ll need to have a professional lead inspector check it out. You, your buyer, and your real estate agents will also need to sign a Property Transfer Notification Certification, which warns the buyer about the dangers of lead paint and tells them about any lead paint on the property. You need to give your buyer this notification before beginning the purchase and sale agreement.

Septic Systems

If you have a septic system on your property, it must have had an inspection in the past two years (before the sale). You must share the results of the inspection with the local board of health and your buyer. If your septic system needs repairs, you’re not legally required to make those repairs yourself. However, your buyer may try to make those repairs a contingency of the sale or negotiate a lower price to compensate them for the cost of fixing the septic system.

What the Buyer May Ask You to Disclose

Keep in mind that while the burden of discovery is on the buyer, you’re still required to answer honestly if your buyer or their agent asks you specific questions about the state of the property. Your buyer may ask you about issues like:

  • Water damage
  • Leaks
  • The presence of hazardous materials (such as radon)
  • Pest infestations
  • The presence of an underground storage tank

Your buyer also has the right to bring in their own home inspector, so there’s no point trying to hide defects that will come up in the course of the inspection. The best thing to do is to hire your own home inspector before selling your property. If the inspector uncovers any issues, make the necessary repairs as soon as possible—ideally before listing your house. That way, you and your buyer are less likely to encounter unpleasant surprises during the buyer’s home inspection.

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