If you’re buying a home in the Pine Tree State, you want to be sure to get the benefit of your bargain. You wouldn’t want to purchase an expensive property only to later discover that it needed significant, costly repairs—a new heating system, a mold remediation, or a new stove, for example. Fortunately, Maine requires sellers to disclose significant material defects to you before you close on the home. What are Maine’s disclosure requirements, and what issues should you consider prior to buying?
Maine, like many states, mandates that sellers reveal various problems that could affect the property’s value or desirability. Maine Rev. Stat. Title 33, § 173 requires sellers of residential real property to provide the purchaser with a property disclosure statement. Maine’s legislation enumerates the issues with the home that the seller must disclose. These include: (i) the water supply system; (ii) the insulation; (iii) the heating system; (iv) the waste disposal system; (v) the presence of any hazardous materials (like asbestos, radon, or lead-based paint); and (vi) any other known defects with the home (a catchall category).
The seller typically makes these disclosures on a standard form. The Maine Association of Realtors has created a sample form that contains all of the required information that you must tell the buyer. The seller’s real estate agent or attorney may have his or her own form or preferences for making these disclosures; no particular form is required.
The timing of when you can expect the disclosure statement is spelled out by the statute. According to Maine Rev. Stat. Title 33, § 174, the seller must give you the property disclosure statement no later than at the time you make a purchase offer. If the property disclosure statement is given to you after you make an offer, you may terminate any resulting real estate contract up to 72 hours after receiving it. Clearly, if you do not receive the statement well before the purchase contract is signed, you should be a bit concerned; do not feel pressured to close on the transaction without carefully reviewing the statement first.
A Maine seller’s disclosure statement will not tell you about every single defect in the home. The seller is required only to disclose information within the seller’s knowledge. Maine doesn’t require the seller to hire an inspector or verify the information disclosed. Thus, a seller who never uses the swimming pool, and has no idea whether or not the pool heater works, need not hire an inspector to check.
Moreover, you should always have a healthy suspicion, even if you trust your seller. Remember, sellers have a natural incentive to minimize any defects presented on the disclosure form. There is no substitute for performing your own home inspection.
Hiring a home inspector costs money, but remember, it will be far less expensive to learn about material defects in the property before the closing than after. Even if you love the Maine home despite any defects your report turns up, you can use your report to help negotiate a lower price. Maine Rev. Stat. Title 33, § 176 says it clearly: “The property disclosure statement… may not be used as substitutes for any inspections… that the purchaser or seller may obtain [and] nothing in this subchapter precludes the obligation of a purchaser to inspect the physical condition of the property.” In other words, you should always verify the seller’s disclosures, or perform further investigation on issues mentioned in the disclosure form, by arranging for a careful inspection of your own.