Disclose, Disclose, Disclose
Sometimes your encounters with real estate professionals seem like "true confessions". Every time you turn around, they are telling you they have to disclose something else to you. Actually, that's a good thing, by law, real estate licensees are required to make a significant series of disclosures in the process of working with any consumer.
"Agency" comes first. Real estate licensees are required by law to tell you whom they represent. At your first business meeting to discuss real estate, the agent for the seller is required to disclose to you that he/she represents that seller. If an agent who represents a buyer interested in your home approaches you, that agent is required to inform you of that relationship at your first business meeting. It can be disturbing, when all you want to do is see a house, and the agent sticks a form in front of you, and says please read this and sign it. The law requires that they do this.
My advice: read it. Ask questions. It is not a contract; this disclosure has to be made before you enter any contracts. Signing it only means you acknowledge the disclosure. Besides, most of these forms contain valuable information about the representation options available to you.
"Material condition". In NH, a real estate licensee, "..shall disclose to a prospective buyer/tenant any material physical, regulatory, mechanical, or on-site environmental condition affecting the subject property of which the licensee has actual knowledge." What this means is, if the licensee knows something about the condition of the property, he/she must disclose it to you, regardless of the fact that he/she may represent the seller.
When listing a property for sale, the agent has an affirmative obligation to ask the seller specific questions about things such as water supply, septic system, and insulation. Most agents take care of this obligation and gather much more information by asking the seller to fill out a property condition form often referred to as a "Seller's Statement" or Seller's Property Information report". You have a right to know any information available, (per the above), prior to writing your offer to purchase.
"Lead". Federal law requires specific disclosures on lead paint, deemed a health hazard especially for young children. Before a real estate licensee lists for sale a dwelling built prior to 1978, that licensee must request that the seller fill out a lead disclosure form stating whether the seller has ever had the house tested for lead, or has any knowledge of the presence of lead paint. The seller, through the agent, is required to disclose any information available on this issue. Buyers of pre-'78 homes are given a ten day "window" to review the information and have any testing done, (at their expense), they deem necessary. Should they discover an unacceptable lead situation, they may rescind the purchase contract. Lead Paint Disclosure requirements, "Title X", also apply the Landlord / Tenant transaction.
"Radon". One of the realities of living in the Granite State is the presence of this odorless, colorless, known carcinogen in varying concentrations throughout the region. The law only requires that licensees tell you radon exists, that testing may discover it, and that there are ways to mitigate its presence.
In jest, I have occasionally stated that we should put a big "Surgeon General's" warning sticker on all housing and be done with it. But... in reality, the business has come a long way from the days of "caveat emptor : buyer beware". Take advantage of all the information available to you as a consumer in the real estate market. Take the time to read the material and ask questions. In my experience haste is your enemy and a source of future difficulty. Spend a few minutes up front learning the ropes and understanding what is being disclosed to you. You may avoid many hours of regret later on.
My best advice: hire a competent, knowledgeable, trustworthy Realtor® to represent you and guide you through the entire process.
Disclosure: I am not lawyer and the above is not legal advice. For legal advice on your particular duties and obligations with respect to your particular situation, I always advise: Seek competent legal counsel!
By John Doran, GRI, CRP, ABR
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