We'd just about arrived at the airport for our 7:30 am flight to NYC when I suddenly remembered that I'd forgotten to pack the cookies I'd baked for Tristan; the ones he specifically asked for; the ones he'd promised his roommate and friends I'd be bringing; the ones Cliff left room in his backpack for; the ones I'd gotten up early to bake . . . Yes, those ones.
Now, Tristans a dutiful son and he'll forgive me (in time) and I'll absolutely make it up to him, but it was a boneheaded mistake to be sure (the worst kind). Cliff thought I'd packed them; I thought he'd packed them, and in our rush to meet our Uber driver on the curb well before the light of day, neither of us remembered to ask the other. Thus, four dozen beautifully-caramelized, chocolate-chip cookies were left behind. Sh#%!
Listen, we're all human and we make mistakes, and if Tristan has a decent oven, I'll be able to recreate what got left behind, but the pit at the bottom of my stomach, and my son's disappointment when I arrived empty-handed, could certainly have been avoided had I just spoken up: "Hey Cliff, did you remember to pack the cookies?" (Duh.)
While cookies are one thing (and sons are another), when it comes to the world of real estate, the things we conveniently "forget" can cost more than a bag of chocolate chips. Which is to say that when it comes to the required Seller questionnaires and disclosures, you're going to want to take some time and rack your brains about what works, what doesn't, what may have been replaced in the past, and what still needs attention with respect to your home's many components.
Prior to our brief jaunt to the Big Apple, I'd spent the week meeting plumbers, handymen, electricians, and haulers to address items that have probably needed repairs for many months, if not years, but weren't really discovered until the last week before we hit the market. That's when the home inspector arrives and dutifully notes clogged drains, poor wiring, misaligned doors, and left behind debris in the crawl space and attics. (Word to the wise - nobody wants your old cans of paint. Please get rid of them.)
Ironically, the longer people seem to live in a home, the less likely they are to flag these types of issues which, in their minds, have become part of the home's idiosyncrasies. While that's understandable, it isn't exactly the smartest decision. Worse yet, are the BIGGER defects Sellers fail to identify, like the flood they had in their basements back in 1989 (or the subsequent insurance claim they made around it), the kitchen fire, the patched roof, or the dispute with their neighbor over the back fence. With all due respect, do yourself a favor and stop soft-pedaling your house: these are important issues and they will be considered material fact in a court of law should it ever come to that. ("Material fact" being ANY issue that might reasonably affect a potential Buyers' decision to purchase the house.) If planes fly overhead, you need to mention it. Neighborhood crime? Absolutely. An unfriendly neighbor? Potentially. Regardless of what you think, no one expects your home to be perfect, and it won't be, but if you fail to mention it, therein lies the problem.
Try to remember that the sharper your memory AND the MORE you disclose, the LESS likely a Buyer is to come back after the close of escrow and question why something was left out (even if you think it's trivial). While it may seem paradoxical to outline your home's long list of shortcomings, FULL disclosure protects YOU, and allows the Buyer to make an informed decision, and that's as it should be. (You'd expect no less.)
Perhaps more insidious, is the stuff homeowners learn to live with: missing handrails, sagging steps, heaving patios, burned-out lightbulbs, running toilets, leaking faucets, peeling paint, moldy grout, holes in the walls, broken window panes, badly scratched floors, and sticky doors and drawers, just to name a few. I once met Sellers who had stopped using their broken bathrooms, one after another (the house had four) rather than getting any of the toilets or plumbing repaired, until they were down to one semi-functioning latrine. That may be one way to go about solving the problem, but it's also extremely short-sighted.
While such stories no longer shock Sarah, Jill, or I any longer, I wouldn't necessarily count on the Buyers sharing our experience, or your selective opinion about what constitutes material disclosure:
"Well, that never bothered us. We just stepped over grandma's dead body." (I might be exaggerating a bit (or a lot), but you get my point.)
When it comes to selling your house, disclose, Disclose, DISCLOSE, and avoid the boneheaded mistake of thinking, "I should have said something. (Yes you should have.) So speak up. (I wish I had.)
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Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 17 years and has published more than 650 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.