If you are selling your Maine property, you no doubt want to make your property as appealing as possible. While every home has a few scratches and dings here and there, you want potential buyers to see the good and, hopefully, not pay much attention to the bad. All real estate agents would advise you to paint your walls and clean your living room before showing off the house. You want to show the home in the best possible light.
However, Maine, like in many states, mandates that sellers reveal various problems that could affect the property’s value or desirability. For example, you can’t conceal a significant defect--like a broken roof or a weak foundation--and hope the buyer doesn't notice until the sale closes. If you're selling your Maine home, what must you disclose, and when?
Maine Rev. Stat. Title 33, § 173 states that “the seller of residential real property shall provide to the purchaser a property disclosure statement.” Maine’s legislation specifically 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; whether any hazardous materials (like asbestos, radon, or lead-based paint) is present in the property; and (v) any other known defects with the home (a catchall category).
While there is no one required form, the Maine Association of Realtors has created a sample form that contains all of the required information that you must disclose to the buyer. Note that your own real estate agent or attorney may have his or her own form or preferences for making these disclosures.
Note that you cannot simply add an “as is” clause to the purchase contract in order to escape your disclosure responsibilities under this statute.
According to Maine Rev. Stat. Title 33, § 174, you must “deliver or cause to be delivered the property disclosure statement to the purchaser no later than the time the purchaser makes an offer to purchase.” If the property disclosure statement is delivered to the purchaser after the purchaser makes an offer, the purchaser may terminate any resulting real estate contract up to 72 hours after receipt of the property disclosure statement.
In other words, as the seller, it is in your best interests to make sure the statement is in the buyer’s hands before any purchase contract is signed. Otherwise, you risk the buyer getting last-minute cold feet after seeing your disclosure form.
You are not required to disclose everything that could possibly be at issue with your home. Importantly, Maine doesn’t require you to hire an inspector or verify the information disclosed in your form. Rather, you are required to disclose only defects that you knew about when making the disclosure. (But remember that the catchall clause sweeps in even types of defects that aren't specifically listed on the form.)
You will also notice that the Maine Realtors’ sample form asks many more questions than the statute specifically requires. Indeed, the disclosure form includes further information about which a buyer would be curious.
For example, you are asked to state whether the property is subject to any easements, encroachments, leases, or homeowner association restrictions. While these sorts of details are not enumerated in the statute, it is generally considered best practice to inform the buyer about them up front. This way, you won’t risk an angry buyer attempting to unwind the sale or sue for damages after the closing. More on this risk in a moment.
It might be frustrating for you as a seller that Maine requires you to fill out this form and give it to a potential buyer, highlighting weaknesses in your property, which might lower your sales price. You might think to yourself: Why should I be totally honest in making those disclosures? Isn't it in my best interests to make any defects sound minimal, or to hide them entirely?
In the short term, this strategy may result in the sale of your home. But in the longer term, you could expose yourself to buyer anger if the same issues turn up in an inspection report, or to later legal liability if the buyer finds problems with the home and realizes that you were not entirely honest. A seller who fails to fully and honestly complete the disclosure faces legal consequences.
For example, imagine that you sell your Portland, Maine townhouse to a family. You state that there is no defect with the electrical system. Yet shortly after moving into the home, the family realizes that none of the upstairs lights or appliances work. When they call an electrician, the electrician says that there was clearly a great deal of work done on the electric system over the past few years, but that now it needs a full replacement.
The buyers will not be pleased. They purchased the home with the belief that the electric system was working. They may seek reimbursement from you for the costs of repair.
In short, honesty, and in some cases disclosing more than you need to, is the best policy. Buyers will appreciate your thoroughness in advising them of even minor problems up-front. It enhances their confidence in the seller, and may smooth the transaction.
By contrast, litigation after the closing would be costly and time-consuming; you will want the transaction behind you. While there is no need to hire inspectors to expose every flaw in the home, or reveal minor issues, answering the questions on the disclosure form thoughtfully and honestly will lead to smoother negotiations with the buyer and greater peace of mind in later years.