Delaware is a small state, but buying a home there is no small process. You must do extensive research on towns, determine your price range, meet with real estate agents, attend open houses, and ultimately negotiate a purchase contract.
All the while, there are thousands of potential pitfalls. One of these is the possibility that physical defects will loom in your dream home; things like a sinkhole in the backyard, a faulty water pipe that is about to burst, or rotten gutters. You might not be able to see these sorts of defects when you tour the home, but they would certainly lower the property’s value.
Fortunately, Delaware’s legislature has enacted the Buyer Property Protection Act, which requires that sellers of residential property make certain disclosures to prospective purchasers about known physical defects. This increases the flow of information from the seller, who may know of these sorts of lurking problems based on having lived in the house. What sorts of disclosures should you anticipate?
As a buyer of real estate, you may take comfort in the fact that Delaware has enacted a very buyer-friendly piece of legislation. Chapter 25, Title 6 of the Delaware Code requires the seller of residential real estate to complete a form—known as the Seller’s Disclosure of Real Property Condition Report—disclosing conditions and defects with the property.
In particular, the statute provides that “a seller transferring residential real property shall disclose, in writing, to the buyer, agent and subagent, as applicable, all material defects of that property that are known at the time the property is offered for sale.” The law also requires that the seller “provide [you] with any information on radon from tests or inspections in [your] possession, and notify [you] of any known radon hazards.”
The purpose of the statute is to compel the seller to detail any facts about which he or she is aware that negatively affect the property. This could cover a wide variety of defects in the home, ranging from the condition of the roof to the condition of the gas tank. The legislature’s broader goal, of course, is to prevent you from having any nasty surprises after moving into the home.
The Delaware Real Estate Commission provides a seven-page form that contains all of the necessary information. The seller is required to provide written copies of this form to you prior to closing.
You will notice that Delaware’s disclosure form is extensive. While some states merely ask sellers to disclose any defects with respect to a few major elements of the property, Delaware’s form is divided into 15 broad categories with nearly 200 total questions. These broad categories capture many of the details about which you would be curious, from the condition of major appliances to the condition of the attic.
The seller also has the option to provide additional comments on page 6. Both the comment and the answer is part of Delaware’s formal disclosure. The comments are useful, since “yes” or “no” doesn’t always tell the whole story of a property defect.
The good news is that Delaware has a buyer-friendly statute, as well as an incredibly comprehensive model disclosure form. It is difficult to imagine a disclosure form with more detailed questions then Delaware’s!
Having said that, you should always take any information that a seller gives to you with a healthy dose of skepticism. Sellers have different incentives from buyers. It is possible that your seller may fail to disclose, or underplay, a significant defect with the home.
Because of this, Delaware homebuyers should always hire an expert inspector to conduct independent inspections. An independent inspector is typically a licensed professional who will explore your potential new home for problems. If the inspector discovers that the entire foundation of the building is shaky, you may decide to reconsider the sale, or at least negotiate for a price reduction or repairs. Alternatively, if the inspector does not turn up any problems, you can feel more secure in your purchase.