As a home buyer in Wyoming, it's in your best interests to know as much as possible about the property before you sign the purchase contract or close the sale. For example, you would want to know about any termite infestations, blown electrical sockets, or moldy bathrooms. These sorts of defects decrease the value of the home.
Unfortunately, while most states require the seller to issue you a disclosure statement that details all known material defects, Wyoming has no such law. There are a few requirements for disclosure when a licensed real estate agent is involved (for example, when it is not a direct sale from the owner of the home), these disclosures are not extensive. What are the regulations surrounding disclosures in Wyoming, and how can you protect yourself as a home buyer?
Wyoming is somewhat unique in that it does not have a law requiring sellers of residential real estate to give you a formal disclosure statement regarding potential defects in the property. To the contrary, Wyoming’s courts enforcecaveat emptor clauses in purchase contracts. Under the doctrine of caveat emptor (“let the buyer beware”), judges ordinarily refuse to compensate buyers for home defects found after the purchase unless the seller actually lied to the buyer, or did something to actively prevent the buyer from inspecting the property. Generally, courts insist that the burden falls on you to inspect the property for defects, rather than on the seller to disclose those defects.
Notwithstanding the lack of legislation on disclosure, and the caveat emptor doctrine, Wyoming does have some regulations around real estate sales that can help protect you when the seller uses a licensed real estate agent. Under Wyoming Code 33-28-303, “a broker shall disclose to any prospective buyer all adverse material facts actually known by the broker.” The meaning of “adverse material fact” is defined in the law as any information that may pertain to the title and the physical condition of the property, any material defects, and any environmental hazards affecting it. Further, the broker “shall not perpetuate a material misrepresentation of the seller which the broker knows or should know is false.”
In plain English, this means that if your seller is using a licensed Wyoming real estate agent to sell his or her home, that agent has a legal obligation not to lie to you. If the agent knows that the HVAC is busted, for example, the agent cannot tell you that it’s in good working order. The agent also cannot repeat any lies that the seller may have told you.
Why would an agent be worried about this law? Breach of the rules here could cost the agent his or her license. TheWyoming Real Estate Commission is the state agency charged with overseeing real estate licensing and enforcing real estate laws. If a buyer gets burned by a real estate agent’s failure to disclose a material fact about the property, that agent runs the risk of being punished by the Commission, for example by having his or her license suspended or revoked. This is a high price to pay, and most agents are unwilling to risk this sort of liability by lying to a prospective buyer.
Do not be too comforted by Wyoming’s legislation, however. First of all, many sellers do not use an agent to sell their homes, meaning there is no disclosure requirement. Second, even if an agent is involved, nothing in the statute requires the agent to perform a complete floor-to-ceiling investigation of the home before approaching buyers, nor does it require the agent (or seller) to hire a professional inspector to find potential physical defects. Thus, even though the agent must disclose information within his or her own knowledge, and also cannot lie to you directly, the agent has no obligation to affirmatively discover defects. One might say the agent’s ignorance is bliss.
You can see that Wyoming’s disclosure requirements are minimal. Having said that, some home sellers may make voluntary disclosures to you. Various real estate agents and attorneys use various forms, and you can view example forms online. These are generally a few pages in length and asks the seller to check “Yes,” “No,” or “Don’t Know” in response to a few dozen questions about his or her property. The form asks simple questions about the physical condition of the house, such as “Does the roof leak?” and whether the structure contains asbestos. The seller is also asked questions about legal matters, such as whether there are any easements or liens on the property.
Putting altruism aside, why would a seller in Wyoming make voluntary disclosures when the law doesn’t require it? There are a few reasons. One might be to instill trust in you. Another might be to immunize him- or herself from later liability, essentially creating a paper trail showing that you were warned about a particular condition.
If your Wyoming seller presents you with this sort of form, the natural question is whether or not you should trust it. Even if the seller does make a voluntary disclosure, you should not necessarily assume that the disclosure is comprehensive. A duplicitous seller might disclose only a small problem in an effort to build trust (perhaps that the attic floor is creaky) but omit more significant problems (for instance, that the home is being eaten by termites). Moreover, the form would include only defects within the seller’s own knowledge.
In short, the best way to protect yourself in a home sale transaction is to do your own independent inspection of the property and not rely heavily on what the seller or the agent tells you (or doesn’t tell you). This means hiring one or more inspectors to perform complete investigations of the home. An inspector will physically examine the home before closing to ensure that there are no serious material defects. Wyoming law strongly incentivizes you to engage in this sort of due diligence to ensure that you don’t find any unhappy surprises in the home moving in.