If you’re buying a home in Idaho, you'll want to understand the requirements that the Gem State places on sellers to tell you about the physical condition of the property. Sellers of residential property are required by state law to disclose to prospective buyers like yourself certain defects with their home that could impair the home’s value. These disclosures must be made before any purchase contract is signed. What sorts of disclosures should you expect to receive from your Idaho home seller?
Typically, a buyer who is interested in a piece of property will make a written offer to purchase that property. A law known as Idaho Statute 55-2501, et seq. mandates that sellers must make certain disclosures to potential buyers within ten days of receiving any such offer. As the legislation states, its intent is “to promote the public health, safety, and welfare and to protect consumers [by requiring] sellers of residential real property… to disclose certain defects in the residential real property to a prospective buyer.”
This means that the seller cannot, for example, accept your down payment or attempt to close on the sale until having made these disclosures.
Idaho is somewhat unusual in that its statute codifies the entire required disclosure form; that is, lays out the exact language that must appear on it, in Idaho Statute 55-2508. The resulting form—which is only about two pages long—asks the seller to answer a series of questions about the conditions of various aspects of the property.
For example, it asks the seller to state whether he or she is aware of any problems with respect to the foundation, electrical system, heating, plumbing, or septic system. The seller is permitted to explain the answers in greater detail (for example, in full sentences or by attaching a report), but this is not required.
Keep in mind that you might see a slightly different version of these disclosures from your seller. Your seller’s real estate agent or attorney might use different disclosure form, which includes all of the required information (and sometimes even more than what is required by law). Just be sure that whatever form you are given includes all of the language required by the statute.
When giving you the form, the seller must sign it (although not necessarily in your presence). You must also sign. This creates a record showing that the statement has been given and received, as required by Idaho’s statute.
As a buyer, you need to protect yourself. This means you cannot always take the seller’s words—or the words of his or her real estate agent—at face value. Even if most Idahoans are honest people, there are some sellers who may try to intentionally mislead you and convince you to buy a “perfect” home that is anything but perfect.
Besides, even if the seller is honest, the statute is very clear that the seller is under no obligation to verify any of the disclosures with a formal inspection or engineering report. The seller needs to disclose only defects or conditions about which he or she actually knows. Idaho’s disclosure form specifically states that “the Seller does not possess any expertise in construction, architectural, engineering or any other specific areas related to the construction or condition of the improvements on the property. [Moreover] the Seller has not conducted any inspection of generally inaccessible areas such as the foundation or roof. It is not a warranty of any kind by the Seller or by any agent representing any Seller in this transaction. It is not a substitute for any inspections. Purchaser is encouraged to obtain his/her own professional inspections.”
Idaho Statute 55-2507 also notes that “other than having lived at or owning the property [the seller] possesses no greater knowledge than that which could be obtained by a careful inspection of the property….”
This language should give you pause. The statute is clear that the seller is under no affirmative duty to, for example, hire a mechanical engineer to ensure that the sewage system is working correctly before handing you a “complete” disclosure form suggesting that it's fine.
Homebuyers in Idaho (and elsewhere) should always perform their own, independent inspections. An independent inspector is normally a licensed professional who will explore your potential new home for problems. That person should prepare a written report, which will detail for you the condition of major areas of the home and alert you to any defects that could significantly impair its value. Even if your inspector refers to the seller’s disclosures, he or she will likely look far beyond that. The inspector’s independence will give you confidence that you know exactly what you are buying and grounds upon which to request any needed repairs or price reductions.