Selling a Missouri Home: What Are My Disclosure Obligations?

Missouri home sellers must provide buyers with details about the physical condition of the house, and might, to ease negotiations and accord with current practices, want to disclose even more than the law requires.

If you are thinking of moving, and want to put your Missouri home on the market, you'll be interested to know that relatively few portions of Missouri law involve specific disclosures that home sellers must make to potential buyers about home defects. Nevertheless, there are good reasons for you to give the buyer a full disclosure report, as will likely be recommended by your agent.

What sorts of disclosures does Missouri law require, and what disclosures might you want to make regardless?

Mandated Real Estate Disclosures in Missouri

Missouri has only a few statutory sections that specifically require a home seller to make disclosures to potential buyers.

For starters, Missouri Rev. Stat. § 442.606 says that if the property is or was used as a site for methamphetamine production, the seller must disclose that in writing to the buyer. Methamphetamine—also known as meth, crystal or ice—is a dangerous and illegal stimulant drug sometimes manufactured in homes, which can lead to serious toxicity for its current and later occupants. You need to disclose this history if you “had knowledge of such prior methamphetamine production,” including if someone previously living there was convicted for it, or for endangering a child because of it. You need not, however, take extra steps such as examining old police records to see whether your house was ever the site of drug production “related to methamphetamine, its salts, optical isomers and salts.”

In addition, Missouri Rev. Stat § 260.213 says that a seller must disclose if the property contains a permitted or unpermitted solid waste disposal site or demolition landfill, and its location. The seller must also tell buyers that they could be held liable to the state for remedial action (which doesn't let the seller off the hook for such liability, either).

Also, federal law requires sellers of houses or condos built before 1978 to disclose lead-based paint and other sources of lead to prospective buyers.

More broadly, the “Missouri Merchandising Practices Act” (Missouri Rev. Stat § 407.020) makes it unlawful to use "deception, fraud, false pretense, false promise, misrepresentation, unfair practice" or to conceal, suppress, or omit any material fact in connection with the sale or advertisement of any merchandise in trade or commerce. This includes sales of existing homes.

All of this adds up to a legal setting in which Missouri sellers are expected to disclose material defects known about on their property.

Exceptions to Real Estate Disclosure Requirements in Missouri

Missouri specifically allows home sellers to remain silent on certain matters related to "psychological impacts" on the property. This includes whether prior occupants of the home had HIV/AIDS or another disease that's unlikely to be transmitted via later occupancy, or whether the home was the site of a murder, felony, or suicide. (See Missouri Rev. Stat. § 442.600.)

Real Estate Agents' Role in Making Real Estate Disclosures in Missouri

If you use a licensed real estate agent to help sell your home, be aware that agents are held to certain standards for honesty under Missouri Rev. Stat. § 339.730.1. This states that an agent must disclose to any potential buyer "all adverse material facts actually known or that should have been known by" the agent.

In other words, real estate agents cannot lie for you without risking their license. If, for example, you tell your agent that you want to sell your home quickly because termites are about to eat the last structural beam, this would be the sort of “adverse material fact” about which the agent would be legally obligated to inform prospective buyers.

Still, an agent “owes no duty to conduct an independent inspection or discover any adverse material facts" for the buyers' benefit. Nor does the agent owe any duty to independently verify the accuracy or completeness of the seller's statements, or those made by any independent inspector. Thus, your agent does not need to double check what you or a professional home inspector have said. The agent simply cannot lie for you.

Standard Real Estate Disclosure Form Used in Missouri

The Missouri Association of Realtors has created a disclosure form for sellers' agents to offer for their use. It asks sellers to fill in information and check “Yes” or “No” to numerous questions about your property. For example, you are asked how old the home is, whether it is the subject of any liens or lawsuits, and whether you are aware of any major problems with its various features (heating, cooling, electrical, plumbing, water source, sewage, and so forth). It covers environmental matters, such as soil and hazardous substances. Legal matters are also covered, such as boundary encroachments or unpaid tax assessments.

The answers should give potential buyers a fairly comprehensive snapshot of any known defects with your property—at least enough to know what they should pay particular attention to when commissioning inspections of their own. The form also contains additional space to explain any of your responses to those questions in greater detail, and encourages you to attach pages if necessary.

Benefits of Making Disclosures to Missouri Home Buyers

Although it might run against sellers' initial instinct, there are short- and long-term benefits and protections associated with making disclosures to home buyers in Missouri, and it has become a standard part of home sales.

First, making disclosures sets clear expectations regarding the quality and condition of the house and property, and could smooth negotiations. The buyer will see from the start that you are being open and honest, and will have less reason to react with shock and dismay if and when the inspection report turns up defects. Imagine, by contrast, if you were to disclose nothing, after which the buyer hires a home inspector who finds major outbreaks of mold. The horrified buyer would likely push hard in trying to renegotiate the sale price or demanding repairs.

Second, the disclosure prevents buyers from later claiming that they did not know about a particular defect. Imagine that there is a busted HVAC system, and you do not say anything to the potential buyer. Even if the sale closes successfully, the buyer will quickly discover the problem upon trying to turn on the heat. Any claim that you “didn’t know” about it would be, at best, difficult to believe. The buyer might sue you for breach of contract or fraud. Even if you ultimately win, you will be forced to hire an attorney and engage in the stress of litigation.

Making a full and forthright disclosure would ensure that the buyer’s expectations match reality. All of this will help to make sure that your home sale in Missouri goes smoothly.

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