So, you are about to sign the purchase contract for that perfect home right on the bank of a meandering river in Virginia. But wait; don’t scribble that signature just yet!
Did you receive the seller’s disclosure form? Under Virginia law, the seller must fill out and give you this form before the sale takes effect. (Code of Virginia § 55-520 (B).) If so, did you read and understand it? Did you realize the disclosure form is really only warning you that the seller is not telling you much about the property? As a buyer in Virginia, it is up to YOU to inspect and investigate the property on your own.
Most other states have passed laws for the benefit of buyers, requiring sellers to give fairly detailed disclosure statements about the condition of the property. Not inVirginia! In your home state, the responsibility of discovering any problems with the property is placed squarely on the buyer’s shoulders. The disclosure statement you will receive from the seller in Virginia (Code of Virginia § 55-519) gives notice that the seller:
The only actual disclosure in this form is a statement that there are no lawsuits pending for violations of the Building Code, and no zoning violations. Basically, the form puts you on notice that it is up to you to find out more about the property.
Virginia law does require seller to provide you with other disclosures in certain limited circumstances. For example, a seller who knows the home has defective drywall or is near a military air base and is in a noise or accident zone, or who has a waiver from the Virginia Board of Health for a septic system repair, must tell you of these matters.
Under federal requirements, the seller must disclose if the property may have lead-based paint, and give you some explanatory materials. You will receive separate disclosure forms from the seller if any of these issues apply.
You will not receive the seller disclosure form in certain situations. The form is not required, for example, in sales between co-owners, between relatives, or in certain tax, bankruptcy, trust, and foreclosure sales. (Code of Virginia § 55-518 (A).) Also, a builder selling a new home for the first time is not required to complete the disclosure form.
If the Virginia seller’s disclosure form doesn’t tell you much about the property, then how do you find out about any problems it might have? How do you make sure, for example, that that wonderful home on the riverbank isn’t rotting away due to previous flood damage?
One answer to the above is that, before you sign that purchase agreement, you need to make sure it includes an inspection provision or contingency. The inspection provision should give you the right to inspect the property (usually by hiring a professional, as described in Nolo's article, " Getting a Home Inspection.") The inspector should provide you with a detailed written report.
In case problems are found during the inspection, your contract should also include your right to either back out of the deal because the problems are more than you want to deal with, or request that the seller either fix any problems found or give you money to do so later. You may terminate the agreement if the seller does not follow through with any promised repairs.
Commonly used purchase and sale agreements include some type of inspection provision. Make sure yours does, and that it contains all the rights and flexibility you need to get fully informed about the property before you commit to the purchase.
Another way to get informed is to ASK QUESTIONS! Although the seller disclosure statement is not particularly helpful, the Virginia seller does need to honestly answer any questions you ask. Keep in mind however, that the seller only needs to answer to the best of his or her knowledge. There may be issues the seller is unaware of, having, for example, not looked into the attic crawl space for years, or lacking the expertise to know what an unstable home foundation looks like.
Some online research may help you, too. Simply entering the home's address into a search engine such as Google may turn up information — for example, if police were called out to that property for some reason. And information on the presence of sex offenders can be found on the Virginia Megan's Law website.
For most people, buying a home is a major investment. Especially in Virginia, thoroughly investigating the property on your own before you make the purchase is a must.
A purchase of this significance may warrant enlisting the help of a local real estate attorney. The attorney will represent your interests in the transaction and make sure you protect your rights under the contract, flag any important information revealed in the inspections, and help make the transaction smooth and successful. After that, all you’ll need to do is put out that rocker and relax for years to come!