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Overview of Pennsylvania's real estate disclosure law

Many residents of Philadelphia have probably heard the phrase "caveat emptor," a legal doctrine that basically means "let the buyer beware." The doctrine, which traditionally applied to almost all purchases, including purchases of a new home, means it is the buyer's responsibility to check out property before they sign an agreement and pay money for it.

In other words, a seller doesn't need to give any information about the condition of the home at all, even if the seller knows the home has serious problems. The seller's only obligation is to speak the truth if he or she chose to speak.

Pennsylvania's Seller Disclosure Law changes the doctrine of "caveat emptor" somewhat, at least when it comes to buying and selling family homes or other residential real estate. Under the law, a seller has an affirmative duty to let a prospective buyer know about any "material defects" the seller knows about in the home. This law applies to most (but not all) home sales, and a seller can satisfy his or her obligations by completing a form prescribed by the state.

As a word of caution to buyers, though, not everything they may later decide they do not like about a house is considered a "material defect" as the term has a precise definition. For instance, even the fact an appliance like the furnace is old and may break soon is not, a "material defect," even though no new homeowner wants to replace a furnace right off.

If a buyer feels a seller may have violated the Seller Disclosure Law, they find consulting with an experienced Philadelphia area real estate attorney to be helpful.

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