Seller Disclosure: 47 States require some sort of disclosure by the sellers of residential real estate and Washington is one of them. The disclosure, also known as Form 17, may well be the most complicated and controversial document in a residential real estate transaction.
- Too much information crammed into five pages
- The missing fourth choice (no longer missing!)
- Too many variables of circumstance
- Agents can’t help but are asked to enforce
- Court rulings put burden on buyers
Too much information crammed into five pages
The Washington Seller Disclosure Statement may explain why filling out certain forms has the appeal of a colonoscopy. Tiny type, too much in all caps, numerous asterisks, indentations, a plethora of boxes and a total of 99 questions are downright intimidating. The form is provided as a courtesy of the Northwest Multiple Listing Service that takes its content from the Revised Code of Washington.
The missing fourth choice
The INSTRUCTIONS TO THE SELLER say: “Please complete the following form. Do not leave any spaces blank. If the question clearly does not apply to the property write NA.” First off, most sellers do not read these instructions. Second, they don’t know where on the form to put the many NAs.
Right now, there are three boxes the seller can check – Yes, No, and Don’t Know. Adding a fourth box for NA would solve a vexing problem.
In June of 2015, the WA lawmakers approved an updated Seller Disclosure statement which included the addition of the NA (Not Applicable) choice for the answers.
Too many variables of circumstance
The form applies, as the title says, to IMPROVED PROPERTY. That includes manufactured homes, condos, single family homes, and dwellings up to four units. It includes properties in the city, farms in the county and homes on the beach. Since the form is organized by topics such as Water, Structural, and Environmental, the questions within each section cover all kinds of properties and circumstances.
Agents can’t help but are asked to enforce
The form states on page one: “…disclosures are made by seller and are not the representations of any real estate licensee or other party.” As a listing agent, I urge my clients to read the instructions carefully. As a buyer’s agent I’m on the receiving end of the disclosure. In both cases, I can state that the seller has missed something but I’m not allowed to say what and where. That’s like not being allowed to tell a lost person which way to go.
Court Rulings Put Burden on Buyer
On the Website of the Seattle law firm of Helsell and Fetterman, you will find an interesting discussion of the Seller Disclosure. Commenting on a recent case from the Washington State Court of Appeals, it says that the outcome “signals a strong return to the legal principle of caveat emptor – otherwise known as ‘buyer beware’.” This ruling is interpreted to mean that “the seller may now intentionally conceal a defect and lie about it, and as long as the buyer’s inspector has some indication of a potential problem and the buyer fails to investigate further, the seller will survive a lawsuit.”
Contact me for a personal reading of the Washington Seller Disclosure. Just kidding.
For more information on this topic see my previous writing.