Most states have clear legislation that would require a home seller like yourself to give a written disclosure report to potential buyers. This report typically identifies any physical defects in the property, from a defective garage door to a leak in the cellar. Wyoming, however, has no such law.
What does this mean for you if you want to sell residential property in Wyoming? The state has no legislation that requires you to disclose defects to buyers (so long as you don’t make any direct misrepresentations during the course of the sale). However, if you use a real estate agent, your agent may need to make certain disclosures to the home buyer. And there may be some good reasons for you to give the buyer a full disclosure report anyway, notwithstanding the lack of legislation requiring you to do so.
Wyoming does not have a law that requires you to give a formal disclosure statement to a potential buyer of your house. To the contrary, Wyoming’s courts enforce caveat 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 did something to actively prevent the buyer from inspecting the property to find all of the defects. Judges view the burden for prepurchase investigation as falling on the buyer, rather than the seller.
Despite the lack of legislation on disclosure and the caveat emptor doctrine, Wyoming does have some regulations around real estate sales. These come into play largely when you use 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.” What are adverse material facts? They may pertain to the title and the physical condition of the property, any material defects there, 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 any licensed Wyoming real estate agent has a legal obligation not to lie to a buyer. If the agent knows that the water pump is busted, for example, the agent cannot tell the buyer that it’s in good working order. The agent also cannot repeat any lies that you may have told the buyer.
Why would an agent be worried about this sort of situation? The Wyoming 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 steep price to pay, and most agents are unwilling to risk this sort of liability by lying to a prospective buyer.
Most likely, you are using a licensed real estate agent to sell your property. Fortunately, nothing in the statute requires the agent to perform a complete floor-to-ceiling investigation of your home before approaching buyers, nor does it require the agent (or you) to hire a professional inspector to find potential physical defects. That said, the buyer will likely want to hire an inspector for this purpose, but neither you nor your real estate agent need to bear that cost.
You may think that you are lucky to live in a state that doesn’t force you to reveal damaging defects about your property. However, you may be surprised to learn that there are some long-term benefits and protections associated with making disclosures, and that as a result, many Wyoming sellers proactively make the disclosures.
Different Wyoming real estate agents use slightly different disclosure forms for their clients. You can easily find example forms online, which are generally about four to five pages long. The forms ask you to check “Yes,” “No,” or “Don’t Know” in response to a few dozen questions about your property. The form asks simple questions about the physical condition of the house, such as “Does the roof leak?” and whether the home contains asbestos. You are also asked questions about legal matters, such as whether there are any easements or liens on the property.
Although it is short, the answers to the disclosure form questions should give potential buyers a fairly comprehensive snapshot of any known defects with your property. The form also gives you additional space to explain any of your responses to those questions in greater detail, and encourages you to attach pages if necessary. (Because Wyoming does not have an “official” form, however, you should talk with your real estate attorney or agent about the preferred documentation for your situation.)
Why make a written disclosure if the law does not require you to do so? First, it sets clear expectations. The buyer will see from the start that you are being open about the condition of the house, and have less reason to react with shock and dismay if his or her own inspection report turns up defects.
Second, the disclosure prevents the buyer from later claiming that he or she didn't know about a particularly defect. Imagine that there is a major, ongoing leakage issue in your basement, and you clean it up, sell during a dry summer, and do not say anything to the potential buyer. Even if the sale does close successfully, the buyer will, as soon as the rains come, discover the problem. Any claim that you “didn’t know” about it would be, at best, difficult to believe. The buyer will be angry; not just because you were dishonest by omission, but also because the buyer will now have to face the unexpected cost of fixing the leak. This creates a risk that the buyer may sue you for breach of contract or fraud.