When you sell or buy a house, you deal with all kinds of craziness. Preparing for endless showings. Negotiating with the other party. Packing your stuff. And dealing with a giant mountain of paperwork. (Everything’s bigger in Texas, right?)
The seller’s disclosure is one of the most important pieces of paperwork you’ll deal with. So what exactly goes into a Texas seller’s disclosure? And are there any times when you’re not required to give a seller’s disclosure in Texas?
The short answers are “a lot” and “yes, but not many.” But let’s dig deeper!
What Is a Seller’s Disclosure?
A seller’s disclosure is a document where the home seller tells the home buyer about any past or present problems that could affect the purchase price—or even make the buyer want to back out of the deal.
Once the buyer receives the disclosure, their real estate agent will work with the seller’s agent to negotiate a fair contract based on the home’s value. The seller may agree to pay for repairs or lower the sale price to compensate the buyer for the home’s flaws.
What Does a Texas Seller’s Disclosure Do?
The seller’s disclosure protects home buyers and sellers. Here’s how:
In the old days, buyers had no way to know if a house had problems. They had to trust the seller or the neighbors to tell them. And sellers often “forgot” to mention crazy issues—like the fact that their basement flooded every two years or that the electricity for the backyard shed actually came from an extension cord buried in the dirt. (Yeah, that happened!)
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So buyers got suckered into some pretty crummy houses. If they’d known the truth, they may have passed on those houses. Or they may have asked the seller to make repairs or lower the sale price.
A seller’s disclosure lets the buyer know what’s wrong (and right) with a house so they can make a smart decision about whether or not to buy it.
Some sellers don’t want to give a disclosure, because they’re afraid it will cut into their profit or stop their home sale entirely. That’s why Texas made laws requiring them to spill the beans—so buyers know what they’re getting.
If your house is in great shape, a seller’s disclosure helps remind the buyer of all the things they love about it—like the cozy fireplace or brand-new stove. Those desirable features can help you make more money on your home sale.
But if your house isn’t perfect? Welcome to the club—that’s most of us! The seller’s disclosure exposes those flaws, which is good. It gets everything out in the open, so if something goes wrong, the buyer can’t blame you because you warned them.
For example, imagine a seller knows their house has faulty wiring, but they don’t disclose it. The seller broke the law. Plus, the buyer can sue them for not reporting the problem and for repair costs. And if the faulty wiring causes a house fire with additional costs and injuries? The buyer can sue the seller for those damages too.
You don’t want a lawsuit—and you definitely don’t want anyone to get hurt. You want to strike a deal that’s good for you and the buyer! A full, honest seller’s disclosure helps you do that. It gives you a starting point for negotiations, so you can decide exactly who’s responsible for which repairs.
What Doesn’t a Seller’s Disclosure Do?
Seller’s disclosures are really helpful, but they aren’t like waving a magic wand. Here’s what they don’t do:
- They’re not a warranty. If the seller says the house has a working fireplace and it breaks after the buyer moves in, the seller doesn’t have to fix it.
- They’re not a contract. The buyer doesn’t have to buy your home just because they signed the seller’s disclosure. That only means they received the document—that’s all.
- They’re not a replacement for an inspection. The seller has to fill out the disclosure to the best of their ability, but they don’t have to get an inspector to confirm it. So home buyers still need to hire their own inspector to make sure the house is okay.
Is a Seller’s Disclosure Required in Texas?
Yes. Section 5.008 of the Texas Property Code requires anyone selling a single family home to fill out a seller’s disclosure. 1 It even has a script you can use to write your disclosure—so you know you’ve met all the requirements.
When Is a Seller’s Disclosure Not Required in Texas?
Every rule has exceptions—even in Texas. You don’t need a seller’s disclosure when you sell or give a house to your kids (such as in a will), your spouse (such as part of a divorce), someone you already co-own the house with, or the government.
You also don’t have to give a disclosure for a house that:
- You inherited
- Is less than 5% of the total property value
- Houses multiple families, like a duplex or triplex
- You’re selling due to a court order, foreclosure or bankruptcy
How Long Does the Seller Have to Provide a Disclosure?
In Texas, the seller must provide a disclosure on or before the date that the purchase contract goes into effect. So technically, the buyer can agree to a contract before they get a disclosure.
But what if the disclosure reveals a major issue, like a plague of black mold or a fault line under the property? The buyer may have to pay thousands of dollars to cure the mold, or their new house could literally fall into a hole in the ground. Suddenly, the old purchase contract doesn’t sound so good.
In that case, the buyer’s and seller’s real estate agents will help them renegotiate the contract based on what’s in the disclosure.
Now, you may be wondering, What if the seller is late providing the disclosure or doesn’t provide one at all?
For starters, the seller just broke the law (which is really stupid). The buyer has seven days from the time they receive a late disclosure to renegotiate or cancel the contract.2 But if the seller never gives them a disclosure, the buyer can back out of the deal any time before closing.
What Do I Have to Include in a Texas Seller’s Disclosure?
So. Many. Things. Let’s walk through the basics of what goes into a Texas seller’s disclosure.
First, you have to tell the buyer about major items in and around your house—and if any of those items are broken or need repairs. That includes:
- Septic system
- Security systems
- Fences, garages and other fixtures
- Appliances and hookups (like a stove, dishwasher or washer/dryer)
- Fire and carbon monoxide detectors and emergency escape ladders
- Heating and cooling systems (HVAC, ceiling fans, woodburning stoves, etc.)
- Water and energy suppliers—for instance, city water or well? Natural gas or solar power?
- Recreational features like fireplaces, pools, outdoor grills, and related items like pool heaters and fake chimneys
Texas takes its smoke detectors seriously, and with good reason! People can die because of missing or broken fire alarms, so you must disclose whether the house has working smoke detectors and alarms.
You have to reveal anything that’s wrong with the house itself—including the walls, roof, floors, ceilings, plumbing, foundation and wiring.
And if anything’s wrong with the garage, driveway or other structures? Yep, you have to tell the buyer!
Some home conditions can get expensive or even cause health issues, so you have to share problems like:
- Lead paint
- Radon gas
- Aluminum wiring
- Hazardous waste
- Improper drainage
- Unplotted easements
- Past roof or structural repairs
- Drains people could get trapped in
- Past damage from fires, water, termites or drug making (sad but true)
Oh, and if your house is near a potential health hazard like a landfill, sinkhole or fault line? You have to let the buyer know about that too.
Equipment and Systems Needing Repair
Maybe your old sump pump leaks (yuck!). Maybe the furnace smells funny (mouse nest? rust? who knows!). Or maybe the plumbing has seen better days. Whatever needs repairs, the buyer needs to know—because one of you will have to fix those problems!
Flood Conditions and Assistance
Water damage can make a house totally unlivable. So if your house has flooded, sits in a floodplain or needs flood insurance, you have to mention that in your seller’s disclosure.
You also have to report whether you’ve ever gotten assistance from a government agency to help repair flood damage.
Compliance, Co-Use and Comfort
This catch-all category covers a lot!
When we say compliance, we’re talking about legal compliance (aka following the law). Your disclosure has to mention any legal issues that could land the new homeowner in hot water, like:
- Lawsuits about your property
- Wiring or systems that aren’t up to code
- Additions or structures you built without a permit
- Deed restrictions or government ordinances you violated
Co-use deals with any part of your property that you share with other people. For instance, you may share a driveway with the neighbors, harvest rainwater or live in a groundwater conservation district.
Finally, by comfort we mean anything on the property that could harm the buyer’s physical health or safety. So that swampy area out back that breeds a zillion mosquitoes? Gotta let them know. Or that mildew your contractor found in the basement last summer? Yep, that too.
There are a lot of laws about what people can and can’t do in Texas coastal areas, so if your house is near the ocean, you’ll need to ask your local government how that affects your seller’s disclosure.
Let’s face it: As much as the military likes to think it’s all stealthy, it’s actually insanely loud. And it has a lot of bases in Texas. If your home is near a military installation, that could affect how the buyer uses the property—or if they can use it at all.
Certain Types of Deaths
People get really weirded out by death and ghost stories, so finding out someone died on a property can wreck a sale. That’s why Texas only requires you to disclose two types of death.
You have to tell a potential buyer if someone died because of a violent crime or because of a condition on your property. For instance, if someone drowned in the creek behind your house, the buyer needs to know because the creek can be dangerous to their family too.
Potential Zoning Changes or Annexations
If you live near a town, that town may extend its borders to include your property (aka annex your property). Suddenly your buyer would have to follow all the town’s residential rules—and they might not want to.
You need to make the buyer aware if there’s a chance the town could annex your property. You must also tell them if the zoning laws for your property might change, because those laws affect how they can use it.
Pipelines or Hazardous Substances Underground
If you’re selling undeveloped land and the buyer plans to build a house on it, you have to tell them about any underground pipelines or potential hazards. Otherwise, their construction crew could dig up a safety hazard, like a natural gas pipeline—and it would be your fault because you didn’t tell them it was there.
Anything You Want to Add
Texas seller’s disclosure laws cover a lot (obviously), but you can add anything else you want to include. You may mention that your HVAC is 15 years old and could croak at any time. Or that the original hardwood floors are under the living room carpet—which could add value to the house.
What Happens if a Problem Arises After the Disclosure?
Okay, you filled out the disclosure, you negotiated a contract, and you’re all set to close on the house. Then the HVAC breaks right before closing.
The buyer is expecting to move into a house with a working HVAC, because that’s what you wrote in the seller’s disclosure. The only problem? It doesn’t have one.
So you have to submit a new seller’s disclosure telling the buyer about any issues that came up after you negotiated the contract. Then the clock starts over: The buyer has seven days to either back out of the deal or renegotiate the contract based on the new info.
What Can I Leave Out of My Texas Seller’s Disclosure?
Not much. Texas laws are pretty thorough, but you can skip a few things:
- Deaths of natural causes, suicide or an accident unrelated to the condition of the property
- Whether a previous occupant had, has or may have had HIV/AIDS or related illnesses
- Whether someone living nearby is a registered sex offender
You can skip the first two because those types of death and illness aren’t relevant to the sale of the house—and because excluding this information protects people’s privacy.
You can skip the third one because concerned buyers can learn whether a registered sex offender lives near your home through public registries—they don’t need that information from you.
Selling or Buying a House in Texas
Texas law states that the seller must complete the disclosure form to the best of their ability, so your real estate agent probably shouldn’t help you fill it out. That’s your job, according to the state.
But real estate agents can (and should) help both buyers and sellers negotiate after the disclosure is done.
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Texas law states that the seller must complete the disclosure form to the best of their ability, so your real estate agent probably shouldn’t help you fill it out. That’s your job, according to the state. But real estate agents can (and should) help both buyers and sellers negotiate after the disclosure is done.
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