Vermont Disclosure Obligations
Vermont law requires that certain issues affecting your property be disclosed to prospective buyers, particularly if you use a real estate agent. While Vermont does not have a comprehensive disclosure law as in most states, there are various regulations for you, as a home seller, to keep in mind; and you might decide to choose to fill out a disclosure form regardless.
Lead Paint Regulations in Vermont
Lead was a common element of paint before the 1980s, and can lead to various health problems, particularly for children and pregnant women. The Vermont Lead Law requires that sellers of “target housing” (built before 1978) give potential buyers information about lead-based paint and hazards, including whether the owner has complied with any relevant court orders.
(Federal law contains a similar mandate for home sellers.)
Real Estate Agents’ Obligations to Disclose in Vermont
If you choose to use a licensed real estate agent to sell your property, be aware that 26 V.S.A. § 2296 makes it professional misconduct for the agent to fail to “fully disclose to a buyer all material facts within the [agent’s] knowledge concerning the property being sold.”
Examples of material facts might include property defects that diminish the value of the land, structures, or structural components, issues with the deed, hazards to health or safety, and so on.
If you, as the seller, tell the agent not to disclose a material defect of your property to a buyer, the agent must quit. If you try to tell the agent to lie for you, the agent also must quit, or face the loss of license, if the buyer discovers the fraud and files a report.
If, for example, the agent has observed that the HVAC is busted, the agent must alert the buyer. The agent also cannot repeat any lies that you might have told the buyer about the property condition.
Nothing in the statute requires the agent to perform a complete floor-to-ceiling investigation of your home before approaching buyers, nor does it require the agent (or you) to hire a professional inspector to find potential physical defects. The agent needs to disclose to the buyer only what he or she actually knows or has observed about the property.
That said, the buyer will likely want to hire an inspector for this purpose. Neither you nor your real estate agent need to bear that cost.
Value of Making Disclosures to Home Buyers in Vermont
As a Vermonter, you might think you are lucky to live in a state that doesn’t force you to reveal damaging defects about your property. However, there are some long-term benefits and protections associated with making disclosures to prospective buyers. As a result, many Vermont real estate sellers proactively make such disclosures, using standard forms provided by their agents, typically called a “SELLER’S PROPERTY INFORMATION REPORT.”
Most of the questions on this standard form ask you to check “Yes,” “No,” or “Don’t Know” in response to a few dozen questions about your property. The form asks simple questions about the physical condition of the house, including structural matters, such as whether the roof leaks, and whether the home contains asbestos or mold, and issues concerning mechanical, electrical, and other systems. It asks about the water supply and sewer hookups.
You are also asked questions about legal matters, such as whether there are any easements or rights of way affect the property.
Your answers should give potential buyers a fairly comprehensive snapshot of any known defects with your property. The form also gives you additional space in which to explain any of your responses in greater detail, and encourages you to attach pages if necessary.
Why make an extensive written disclosure if Vermont law does not require you to do so? First, it sets clear expectations. The buyer will see that you are being open about the condition of the house. The relationship between you will feel collaborative, rather than adversarial.
Second, the disclosure prevents a buyer from later claiming that you covered up a particular defect, and thus are liable for fraud or breach of contract. Imagine that you fail to mention that the foundation is unstable and needs to be buttressed. A buyer who moves in and discovers the problem will face significant costs of remediation, and possibly feel duped and decide to sue. Had you disclosed the issue, however, the buyer could not claim to not have known about the problem before purchasing the home. In other words, disclosure can serve to insulate you from legal liability.