Massachusetts is a caveat emptor, or “buyer beware,” state, which means that the seller of a home isn’t required by law to disclose a whole lot during the sale. The onus is on the buyer and the buyer’s agent to ask the right questions. But there are a few things sellers do legally have to report when listing their home.
The Existence of Lead Paint
This is an important one; sellers are legally obligated to disclose whether or not the home has lead paint in it. Often that information isn’t available, in which case the seller must warn potential buyers of the existence of lead paint if the home was built before 1978. For sellers this isn’t a huge concession, since so many homes in the Boston area pre-date 1978 construction, and by default, will likely have lead paint.
However, the vast majority of homes will have an “unknown” lead status. This simply means that the homeowners have never had the home tested for lead, so they do not know if lead paint is present or not.
The seller is obligated to disclose what they know about lead paint in the home (1.) yes, lead paint is present; (2) no lead paint is present; (3) home has been remediated for lead; or (4) the home has an unknown lead paint status). They must disclose this before entering into a formal agreement with any buyer. If they don’t, they may be fined up to $1,000.
The Presence of a Septic System
The other essential disclosure here in Massachusetts is the presence of a septic system. If your home has one you have to tell any potential buyers about it. Additionally, the system must have been inspected at least once in the two years leading up to the sale. If it hasn’t, an inspection must be done. The law doesn’t technically mandate who is responsible for the cost of the inspection, but typically the seller covers it.
Sellers are only obligated to disclose the existence and condition of the system; they’re technically not required to bring it up to compliance if there are existing issues. But that could be a deal breaker during a negotiation depending on the costs.
Basically, You Can’t Lie
The other legal stipulation is that if the seller chooses to disclose anything else or the buyer specifically asks about anything else, the seller is obligated to tell the truth about it. But because so little is required in disclosures, there’s a lot of grey area for omitting information.
For sellers this is pretty good news, there isn’t a whole lot you need to do to cover yourself legally. Although we recommend being upfront about things from the start, both to cover yourself morally and to avoid issues during a negotiation.
For buyers this isn’t the best news because it takes some digging to know what you’re getting yourself into. That’s why it’s important to have a buyer’s agent who knows how to bring a shovel to an open house and dig up any property dirt that might not have been disclosed. Lucky for you, we’re excellent diggers! Reach out at 617-942-1741 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.