As a home inspector I can tell you first hand that the disclosure statements filled out by the seller of a home are rarely worth the paper they are printed on. Oh yes it is the law for a seller of a home to fill this piece of paper out, and there are some stiff penalties for those who are less than truthful. Does that seem to scare sellers? Nope and I can tell you why. Ignorance is no exception to the law, however, ignorance is bliss when it comes to the sellers disclosure statement.
What is a sellers disclosure statement?
The sellers disclosure statement is approximately 5-6 pages of questions that ask if the seller is aware of any conditions with the property, if they now exist or if they have ever have existed. There are three boxes and the seller is to check one of them. There is Yes, No and our personal favorite "Do not know". That little "do not know" box is the sellers out, and if you do not practice your due diligence, that little box can wind up haunting you for the duration of your stay in your new home.
While doing home inspections, I quite often come across these disclosure statements laying on the kitchen counter and I always help myself to a peek. It is extremely disturbing to me the amount of times I see all of the pages filled out and all of the items that are marked "Do not know".
Many times I will come out of a home inspection with a laundry list of items in need of repair. Some are quite obvious while others tend to be somewhat hidden by an apparent "cover up". Home Inspectors are specially trained in finding defects in homes. After performing thousands of Home Inspections, Inspectors get a certain instinct on what to look for and where to find them, and this holds true ESPECIALLY in older homes. Case in point, I did a home inspection a while back of a 1920's home with a "newly finished basement". During the Inspection, the clients informed me that the home was for sale the previous year and did not sell. The sellers took the home off the market to make some "repairs" and then re-listed the property afterwards. Now, to a good Home Inspector that should raise a waving red flag (which it most certainly did). After only a few minutes of being down in the basement and moving some of the suspended ceiling tiles around, it became painfully obvious what had happened.
When I started moving the ceiling tiles around I found mold growth all over the floor joists and subflooring, multiple safety violations including open junction boxes (that were covered in dryer lint), un-insulated duct work that was condensating over unsecured electrical wiring, etc. The majority of the walls were finished in new drywall with one small exception, a section about 2' x 3' where the block wall was exposed. That portion of the wall was stained with moisture, efflorescence and mold and also appeared to be continuous down the block wall behind all of the new drywall. There was also no insulation or vapor barrier on the block wall. Other issues found in this home were improper plumbing connections, plumbing leaks, improper electrical connections, electrical safety violations in the main panel etc. All of which were covered up in the "newly finished basement". You can probably guess where I am going with this. In looking at the sellers disclosure statement, EVERYTHING was checked "Do not know"
The moral of this story
Do not, for one second, believe anything that is listed on a sellers disclosure statement! It is a sad reality that in today's world, you simply cannot trust people, ESPECIALLY when it comes to money. The absolute BEST thing you can do when purchasing a home is to hire an experienced Home Inspector to inspect the home prior to signing on that dotted line for good. Protect yourself, your family and your investment. Your peace of mind is well worth a few hundred bucks when buying a home!