If you’ve decided to sell your own home, it’s critical to understand the legal aspects that come along with the process.
At every step of the way there are real estate laws ensuring both the buyer and the seller are protected. Bypassing any of these can result in losing a sale at best and charges of fraud at worst.
The first important legal issue to understand once your house is on the market is disclosure. In Virginia, a homeowner must submit a residential disclosures acknowledgement form as well as a residential property disclosure statement. The details of disclosure vary from state to state, but in Virginia the law and accompanying disclosure form leans toward the seller, using the old English common-law concept, “caveat emptor” which translates to “buyer beware.” What this means for you is that you must disclose any issue with the home that you are directly asked about by the buyer honestly and to the best of your knowledge. However, if the question is not asked, you do not have to disclose any known issues. But that doesn’t get you off the hook.
Nearly every buyer in Virginia will make an offer conditional on a home inspection. This means that while you may not have disclosed an issue, the inspector likely will, and the buyer may not be too happy to find out this information by that point of the process. This can cost you a sale and a lot of time.
The best plan is to fill out your residential property disclosure statement alongside your real estate attorney who can advise you on the best way to handle any known issues with your home. It is also advisable to pay for your own objective inspection of the home prior to putting it on the market. This lets you know if there are any issues that may come up if a potential buyer asks for an inspection. Knowing the issues means you can either fix them before putting the house on the market or at least be aware of these potential costs and negotiating points that a buyer may ask for or use.
The second legal issue to understand when selling your home is your right to refusal. There are many reasons why you may want to refuse an offer including price, the buyer’s financing position, or even if you just change your mind and decide to stay. But there are also illegal reasons to refuse a sale.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits a seller from considering a potential buyer’s race, sex, familial status or national origin when deciding whether to accept or reject an offer. When you list your home with an agent, it’s common to never even see the buyer - especially before closing. However when you’re selling your own home you are seeing and interacting with every potential buyer. If a buyer places an offer that you refuse without legal reason, they can claim that you may be doing so because of their race, religion, or anything else the FHA protects. Again, this is where a real estate attorney can help in making counter offers and offer refusals that are legal, fair and honest.
If you’ve decided to sell your own home, that doesn’t mean you have to do it entirely alone. Find a trusted attorney experienced in real estate law to help walk you through the often complicated steps that are required. An attorney can assist with everything from listing your home to closing without requiring a large percentage of your home’s selling price.