Are Sellers Property Disclosures Just a Big Lie???


How would you feel if…the freshly renovated home with the fancy kitchen had burned like a fire pit before you bought it…and it was not disclosed to you Hmmm…was the wiring in the walls replaced also? Is it still a safety hazard?  Are you worried? Can you now believe anything that the seller or the agent say? 

Sellers Property Disclosure

Why was it not mentioned and just covered up? Shouldn’t that be part of a seller's property disclosure?  What do you think?  I bet you would want to know…and I would want you to know exactly what you are buying.  This is exactly what a seller's property disclosure is for…no pretending, no double talk, and no hiding.  Just the facts, please!                                                

As an Exclusive Buyers Broker for 30+ years, I have been scrutinizing sellers' disclosures for a long time…very carefully. If it smells fishy, I trust my nose. It is not that hard anymore to spot misrepresentations and lies of all sizes…

First of all, what is a seller's property disclosure? 

A Seller’s Property Disclosure is a legal document that requires sellers to provide previously undisclosed details about the property’s condition that prospective buyers may find unfavorable that they may not know.

While the Seller does not have to disclose the deficiencies in writing, they are required to disclose. 

TIP: If there is no written disclosure available, the buyer should ask for one (in writing) when making an offer to purchase.

What MUST sellers have to disclose in Florida?

Mandatory disclosure items include defects or issues with a property roof, foundation, electrical, plumbing, mechanical systems and the land. Some examples include violations, disputes, litigation and environmental hazards such as lead, asbestos, mold and insect infestations or underground storage tanks…both current or previous.  

Then there are the basic things like whatever is leaking, not working properly, or had to be previously fixed…and yes, including if a portion of the house burned.

Sellers Property Disclosure

What are the disclosure duties of both the agent and the seller?

Florida case law provides that, with some exceptions, a residential home seller must disclose any facts or conditions about the property that have a substantial impact on its value or desirability and that others cannot easily see for themselves.

Simple explanationIf there is something that may turn off the buyer from buying the property or make them offer less, it needs to be disclosed.   If in doubt, DISCLOSE, DISCLOSE, DISCLOSE

Does everyone disclose in St. Petersburg?  Of course not!

This is what really happens…

Sellers do what their agent tells them.  If the agent explains the duties of full disclosure and what can happen if they don’t disclose properly, chances are the seller will come clean with a good disclosure.

BUT…What has been happening is that many brokerages  (especially the larger or franchise offices) have created their own sellers' disclosures…all watered down.

A.  Often these creative disclosures remove all of the hard questions about the age of the roof, water heater, A/C, Polybutylene plumbing or electrical wiring…(these hard questions affect the buyer's ability to get good insurance}.  The only questions left are either mundane or unimportant…or easy to answer.


B.  They take a State Sellers Disclosure and but a big X on it and write:

“Seller knows nothing…they did not live there”

Sellers Property Disclosure

Give me a break!!!

Sellers do know about their property even if they never lived there.  It can be a vacation home, or investment rental or a home that someone is just flipping…YES, THEY DO KNOW…they just decided it is easier to pretend that they don’t know.  

If you are paying for the maintenance, you do know. Some sellers just hope the buyer will not find out and some agents hope that the buyer does not hire a great inspector.

I have owned rental properties for years that I have never lived in.  Yet, I know everything about them because things break down and I pay to fix it.  Plus every technician that is hired to fix something will also let me know what else needs to be replaced.

Likewise, every single landlord knows exactly what the problems are because tenants do complain.  Owners do know the condition of the roof, a/c, electrical and plumbing…

Then there are agents that know or see something wrong but will not say anything. If the buyer does not notice, they will also pretend not to know also. That just shows that they care more about getting their commission than doing what is right. 

Erika, one of our seasoned Exclusive Buyer Agents, does not let any problem slide.  One time on a “day-of-closing final walk thru” for a brand new construction Townhome she noticed flaws in some of the floor tiles. St. Petersburg Sellers Property Disclosure

No one else noticed; not the builders rep or the home buyer. 

Erika spoke up, advocating for the buyer, and got the builder to replace all of the tile including on the 2nd floor. That's what a great buyer's agent does…that IS the duty of a Buyer's Agent!

That type of expert buyer representation is only found in a dedicated Exclusive Buyer Brokerage ( Buyers Broker of Florida) that only represents the homebuyer with no conflict of interest. There is a huge difference between an Exclusive Buyer Brokerage Office that is vested in homebuyers or a traditional agent that just pretends to be one.

Typically traditional agents don’t even bother to read the seller's disclosure, they seldom go on a home inspection and they rarely do a final check of the home just prior to closing.

Buyers Broker of Florida always does it all; we do scrutinize the seller's disclosure, we do go on all home inspections and we also do a final walk-thru with or without the homebuyer.  It is important that no new deficiencies pop up since the buyer signed the contract. If a walk thru just prior to closing, reveals new deficiencies, it needs to be addressed.  That is a new problem you did not buy…(even if it is an “as-is” contract).

We also give full disclosure on anything we know or find out.  Even if a new discovery is a deal killer or not.  The buyer has the right to know exactly what they are buying.  If they no longer want to buy the property, no problem. 

The fact is that most agents are so worried that the seller may not like them (or ruin their chances of listing the neighbors house) so they either don’t ask or don’t want to know about any home deficiencies.  

Sellers' agents typically have a long list of responses if the buyer asks for details.

  • Why are you asking?
  • I am not an inspector
  • The seller is elderly
  • Sellers are divorcing
  • Sellers barely lived there
  • You can get a home inspection
  • Seller has only owned it for 3 years
  • It was only a condo for their son
  • I don’t know
  • It was an investment property

SO WHAT? Who pays the bills on the repairs?   The seller does! I had one agent try to convince me that the property management paid for repairs so the sellers “know nothin”.

Baloney. Sellers do get reports from property management who bill them for the repair.

Sellers Property Disclosures St. Petersburg Florida

I have looked at sellers property disclosures where the seller HAS lived there for 40 years but still claims not to know if the A/C has been replaced or the shingle roof has ever leaked. In fact not only do they not disclose any replacements or repairs, according to them everything is good.

What about house flippers…do they disclose?

No. Usually their agent thinks that just because they bought the house to re-sell quickly, its OK not to know anything. 

Let's face it, the less problems found, the better chance of closing the deal…  

HOUSE FLIPPERS know also…I used to be a house flipper and anytime something is repaired or replaced, another problem is discovered. You may find  a wall outlet that  does not work only to discover the electric wiring has been improperly installed. Do you fix it all or band-aid the problem and say nothing?

Too many flippers and sellers just band aid the problem and disclose nothing.

I was in a “remodeled” St. Petersburg home recently, where the agent bragged about the beautiful new floors (house was frame construction with a crawl space). When I walked around I could tell in certain places that the flooring was “spongy”.  A sign that the subfloor was probably eaten up with termites (common in Florida)  and the damage was not replaced.

Yes, the new flooring looked pretty but for sure the “flipper” cheaped out on fixing the sub flooring.  

Do you really believe that…

whoever replaced the floor did not see the sub floor?

Of course they knew, it was just easier to cross off the seller's disclosure, NOT disclose anything and just say:  NEVER LIVED THERE…on the sellers disclosure.

Flippers only need the house to look good, not necessarily be good, because home buyers buy houses that look good…like the saying goes…”The Eyes Buy”

Another true story: 

Seller creates an engineering miracle up in the attic!  

Home inspection revealed several deficiencies with the roof leaking in several places. We renegotiated the contract and the seller agreed to fix the leaks.

So what did the seller really do?  He fashioned metal gutters inside the attic to carry the water leaks from one side of the roof over to the other side and dump into the soffits to leak outside the property…he must have worked days on it. 

Not only have we had other sellers stuffed towels inside a leaking water heater or provided bogus receipts (from Cousin Vinny) for repairs but builders may hide problem issues also:  

Keys that don’t fit the locks, kitchen exhausts that are not connected, loose cabinets, missing windows, skipping upgrades, no hurricane straps, smaller tile substituted etc.. 

Does the builder rep really not know? You decide. I say, it's their job to know.

Yes, there are some Honest Sellers Disclosures…

In fact some sellers actually disclose more than required,  but that is not the norm.

One time on an multi-expensive complicated property that included 2 homes, 2 pools, airplane hanger, along with a commercial office.  I requested a seller's disclosure.

The 2 listing agents refused. They told me that the seller had not seen the property in the past 5 years, so they claimed that since the seller did not know anything, there was nothing to disclose.  

I persisted asking for a sellers disclosure because some things the agents claimed did not make sense:

The Agents claimed there were no keys to the building that held the pool heater, pump and all the sophisticated pool equipment.  They also claimed that the pool overflowed into the house, causing carpet damage.  Hmmm…the pool was built much lower than the house, so how does water flow uphill?

Be honest on Sellers Property Disclosure

I finally got a 5 page disclosure hand written by a seller…

OMG the seller disclosed that the pipes burst upstairs which is why they had to replace the downstairs carpet and that the double pane windows all needed replacing, plus one house had structural problems because of a tree too close to the pool and much much more.  

Information that only an honest seller would disclose.  Bless him for that!                     

So what can you do to protect yourself? 

Scrutinize the seller's disclosure. Ask for details. Check the property on the internet. Hire the best buyer agent to provide you with all the information that is available.

  • Tax records
  • Permits
  • Previous listings of the property
  • Previous sellers disclosures

Sometimes, the seller's disclosure is incomplete and the information available is scant.  Other times you may hit paydirt.  

Last year I showed a luxury waterfront home that was owned by a St. Petersburg Real Estate Agent…the same agent who listed the property. 

The agent bought it 5 years prior and claimed he knew nothing about how old anything was.  YET, the old “sellers disclosure” of 5 years ago was still attached to the property in MLS, showing that there were roof leaks back then when the roof was already 14 years old…(that was 5 years ago).  Yep, he knew…

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