Sellers soon must list home's defects

November 28, 1993|By Ellen James Martin | Ellen James Martin,Staff Writer

The state has drafted the disclosure form that sellers, starting Jan. 1, will use to tell buyers about defects in their home.

Under a law passed by the General Assembly earlier this year, all sellers must fill out a form or, as an alternative, sign a disclaimer that they are offering the property "as is."

A preliminary version of the two documents has been approved by Maryland's Real Estate Commission. The commission will vote on the final form of the documents at its meeting Dec. 18.

"I think it's going to open the eyes for consumers to ask questions," said Elizabeth Beggs, the commission's executive director.

The draft has 17 main questions. Sellers are asked to answer either "Yes," "No" or "Unknown." Space for comments is available for each question.

The form asks about foundation; basement moisture; roof leaks; structural problems; plumbing; heating; air conditioning; electrical system; septic system; water supply; insulation; exterior drainage; termites; environmental hazards such as radon or asbestos; zoning and easements; location in a flood plain; and miscellaneous defects.

The form also asks about the age of heating, air conditioning and hot water systems.

Real estate brokerages in the Washington suburbs of Maryland have for several years asked their sellers to fill out forms disclosing defects in their properties to prospective buyers. But the practice has not been widespread in the Baltimore

area, said Nancy Hubble, president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors.

"It puts everybody on a pretty level playing field," Ms. Hubble said.

Maryland realty boards, including the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, had pushed for seller disclosure legislation for two years. Lawmakers gave the Maryland Real Estate Commission the job of drafting the forms.

Realtors' groups supported the law because they believe it will help homebuyers, Ms. Hubble said. They also feared lawsuits by disgruntled homebuyers who discover defects after moving in.

"I would certainly encourage sellers to be absolutely candid about the condition of their properties," said Ms. Hubble, noting that any party to a real estate transaction is vulnera

ble to lawsuits when defects are found after a sale has been finalized.

The new law is mandatory for all sellers -- even when a property is marketed directly to the public without using a real estate agent. And the law must be met for all properties on the market after Jan. 1, including those that were listed for sale before the effective date of the law.

Ms. Beggs of the state Real Estate Commission said the disclosure and disclaimer forms now in circulation -- which received preliminary approval from the commission and were published in the Maryland Register -- are not necessarily final.

She said the commission is still garnering reaction from members of the industry and public and could change parts of them.

The draft form -- and the final version -- can be obtained from the Real Estate Commission, 333-6230.

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