|States that require
formal disclosure by sellers
At least 32 states require some
type of formal seller disclosure, according to the National Association
They are: Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut,
Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky,
Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire,
New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania,
Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington
All disclosure forms generally cover in great detail
the legal, structural and environmental condition of a property
prior to sale. But often, regional concerns pop up in state-to-state
For instance, earthquake hazard disclosure is required
in California, but not in New York or in most of the Midwest.
Many western states require wildfire hazard disclosure;
eastern states typically do not.
Alaska wants to know if you've ever sustained avalanche
or permafrost damage, while Hawaii is interested in erosion from
mudslides or volcanic activity.
Some states, South Carolina and Tennessee, for example,
ask about nuisances (noise, smoke, odors) associated with living
in the house that the buyer may not discover until it's too late.
This should tip off the prospective buyer about the dog that barks
all night and the garage band across the street.
In Alaska, they're even more specific. Possible nuisances
spelled out for sellers to reveal include "airplanes, trains,
dogs, traffic, racetracks and neighbors."
Sometimes fashionable building materials find their
way into disclosures. Tennessee, for instance, wants you to come
clean if you fell for the "synthetic stucco" craze a few
States have generally been reluctant to get too specific
on the touchy subject of "stigmatized" houses, that is,
haunted properties or scenes of murders or suicides. But in California,
which has seen its share of ghostly listings, scandal has an expiration
date: Sellers don't have to disclose a murder or other stigmatizing
occurrence if it took place more than three years ago.
Few expect seller disclosure requirements to ever
apply nationally. Real estate has traditionally been regulated at
the state level where its licensing fees contribute to the general
But because the industry is very good at sharing best
practices across state lines, Craig Cheatham, executive vice president
of the Association
of Real Estate License Law Officials, says a de facto national
standard for seller disclosure is probably inevitable.
"You used to have two or three states that were
basically still caveat emptor, but New York just recently abandoned
that. Now Alabama and Minnesota are the two that are left. The trend
is toward more uniformity.
"The crux of it is, in which of these states
are the courts going to say, 'You should have known.'"
Jay MacDonald is a contributing
editor based in Mississippi.