Buying a New Jersey Home: What Does the Seller's Disclosure Form Tell Me?

While New Jersey home sellers aren't obligated to fill out a particular form, they must disclose certain conditions affecting the property -- and local real estate agents have developed a standard form allowing them to do so.

Unlike in some states, New Jersey law does not require that home sellers provide a buyer with written disclosures listing or describing the physical features of the property and their condition or defects. As a buyer, therefore, it’s in your interest to press the seller to provide such a statement. If the issues disclosed are serious enough, they may impact your very decision whether to buy the home.

Enough New Jersey buyers ask for written disclosures that a standard form has been developed for this purpose, called the Seller’s Property Condition Disclosure Statement. This was created by the New Jersey Board of Realtors and your real estate agent will be able to access a copy.

Even if the seller does not want to provide a written disclosure statement, New Jersey law requires the seller to disclose all material defects that the seller knows of concerning the property. Encouraging the seller to provide the statement is the best way for you to obtain this information in an organized fashion.

Although you will still want to conduct a home inspection, obtaining seller disclosures will also help make sure you know what you are getting into before you buy your home. You’ll be able to glean information from someone who has actually lived there, and you can also give it to your home inspector to guide his or her examination of the property.

When and How to Request a Seller’s Disclosure Statement

Standard practice in New Jersey is for a buyer to request the disclosure statement before making make an offer. It is in your best interest to get the information at this time because the conditions in the home will affect the amount you offer. Once produced by the seller, the disclosure statement becomes a public document through the seller’s real estate agent. A buyer’s real estate agent can obtain the seller’s disclosure statement from the seller’s real estate agent at any time.

What Buyers Should Expect the Seller to Disclose

The disclosure statement gives the seller the opportunity to disclose, to the best of his or her knowledge, the condition of the property. The statement contains a number of sections regarding various issues that may exist in the home. Under each section, the seller has to check off the appropriate adjoining box for "yes," "no," or "unknown," with spaces for explanations, if necessary.

If you obtain a Seller’s Property Condition Disclosure Statement you will learn about:

  • the age of the home
  • termite, dry rot, and pest issues
  • roof leakage
  • defects in the plumbing, water purification, or sewage disposal systems
  • the condition of major appliances such as the refrigerator, range, and dishwasher
  • environmental hazards
  • structural issues.

The sellers, assuming they have lived in the home, are almost always in a better position than a realtor or professional inspector to know about the home and its potential defects.

In certain situations, sellers may not want to provide a statement, out of concern that they may be held liable for failing to disclose something. However, failing to provide the statement does not relieve a seller of liability. The seller still has to disclose, either orally or in some form of writing, any material defects that the seller knows of in the home.

What the Seller’s Disclosure Statement Will Not Tell You

Even if the seller completes a disclosure statement, it will not tell you about hidden defects that the seller is unaware of. For example, there might be defects, such as mold or sub-standard electrical wiring, hidden behind the walls or in the crawlspaces. In addition, the seller’s disclosure statement will not tell you about things like dirty carpets or missing floor tiles, which are considered cosmetic issues that the seller is not obligated to disclose.

Resources for Learning More About the Property

It is a good idea to use multiple resources to discover as much information as possible about a home before purchase. While you can, and should, hire a home inspector to examine the home for defects, there is no guarantee that home inspector will discover all existing defects.

In addition to hiring a professional inspector, you should talk to neighbors to find out about neighborhood conditions that could have affected the property. Do an Internet search using the home’s address to check for a history of crimes or other newsworthy issues. If you are not sure whether you know enough about the home, consult with an attorney to find out more information about what a seller is required to disclose in New Jersey.

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