How do I get the real scoop on homes I am looking at?

Home inspections, seller disclosure requirements and the agent’s experience will help.Disclosure laws vary by state, but in some states, the law requires the seller to complete a real estate transfer disclosure statement. Here is a summary of the things you could expect to see in a disclosure form:

  • In the kitchen — a range, oven, microwave, dishwasher, garbage disposal, trash compactor.
  • Safety features such as burglar and fire alarms, smoke detectors, sprinklers, security gate, window screens and intercom.
  • The presence of a TV antenna or satellite dish, carport or garage, automatic garage door opener, rain gutters, sump pump.
  • Amenities such as a pool or spa, patio or deck, built-in barbeque and fireplaces.
  • Type of heating, condition of electrical wiring, gas supply and presence of any external power source, such as solar panels.
  • The type of water heater, water supply, sewer system or septic tank also should be disclosed.

Sellers also are required to indicate any significant defects or malfunctions existing in the home’s major systems. A checklist specifies interior and exterior walls, ceilings, roof, insulation, windows, fences, driveway, sidewalks, floors, doors, foundation, as well as the electrical and plumbing systems.

The form also asks sellers to note the presence of environmental hazards, walls or fences shared with adjoining landowners, any encroachments or easements, room additions or repairs made without the necessary permits or not in compliance with building codes, zoning violations, citations against the property and lawsuits against the seller affecting the property.

Also look for, or ask about, settling, sliding or soil problems, flooding or drainage problems and any major damage resulting from earthquakes, floods or landslides.

People buying a condominium must be told about covenants, codes and restrictions or other deed restrictions.

It’s important to note that the simple idea of disclosing defects has broadened significantly in recent years. Many jurisdictions have their own mandated disclosure forms as do many brokers and agents. Also, the home inspection and home warranty industries have grown significantly to accommodate increased demand from cautious buyers. Be sure to ask questions about anything that remains unclear or does not seem to be properly addressed by the forms provided to you.