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What must be disclosed before selling a home?

Federal and state law require home sellers to disclose certain defects in the property before transferring ownership. The idea behind this requirement is that buyers should know what they are getting into, and should not be tricked into buying a defective home they cannot afford to repair.

This makes sense from a policy perspective, but it can sound a little intimidating to people who are considering selling their home. No home is perfect, and people who are getting ready to sell their home may worry that they are going to scare off potential buyers when they list every little thing wrong with the property — or worse, that they are going to have spend a lot of money to fix up the place before they can put it on the market.

What is a material defect?

In fact, disclosure requirements are fairly limited. Illinois law requires home sellers to check off parts of a list material defects. The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors defines a material defect as “a specific issue with a system of component of a residential property that may have a significant, adverse impact on the value of the property, or that poses an unreasonable risk to people.”

On the Illinois list, relevant material defects can involve serious leaks, cracks in the foundation, sewer problems, high levels of radon and other potential problems. Sellers read down the list and check a box “yes” if they know of the presence of any of the listed material defects. Similarly, federal laws require sellers to disclose the presence of lead paint and other potential hazards. The law does not require the seller to fix any of the defects before selling, only to disclose them to the buyer.

Disclosures are just some of the legal requirements that come with selling a house. An experienced real estate lawyer can walk homeowners through the process and advise them on their rights, obligations and legal options.