Dear Jan: We had a buyer for our home and at the last minute the buyer got cold feet. We thought that we would get to keep their earnest money but our broker said that since the disclosure form was not complete, we missed answering a question, that they get their earnest money back.
We were in shock and want to warn others of this frustrating situation. Would you address this in your column so that others can benefit from our mistake please? — Thanks, KKP
Dear KKP: Ouch! That indeed is a very frustrating thing to have happen. And yes, I will be happy to address it here.
The disclosure form, often referred to by brokers as Form 17, is a form used in a real estate transaction. The form in its entirety is mandated by state law. The law says that a complete disclosure form be given to buyers prior to closing. The buyer(s) then have three days to review the form and turn the property away if they choose to do so. (Kind of a “free out”!)
Here is the part that caused you grief. When they say “complete,” they mean complete. Every single question needs to have an answer. The boxes say “Yes,” “No” and “Don’t Know.” If the question applies to your property, a box MUST be checked. In addition, the seller(s) needs to initial or sign every single place where there is a place to sign. If any boxes are unmarked that apply or any initials or signatures are missing, the form is deemed incomplete.
When I list a home, one of the first things I do is give the seller the disclosure form to fill out. Once they return it to me, I “proof it,” meaning that I read it line by line and make sure we have no unmarked boxes or missing signatures. Then, when we get an offer, I make sure that the disclosure form is in the buyer’s hands right away; I want that three-day clock ticking right away.
If a broker is lackadaisical about this and does not follow through, it can cause the nightmare you just experienced. The buyer rejects the property based on the disclosure form and gets their earnest money back.
Thanks for giving me the chance to remind sellers that paperwork is critical in a real estate transaction, so please try to be accurate and timely to make for a smooth transaction. Your local real estate broker will thank you!
— Contact Jan Zufelt at email@example.com