Five Legal Protections for Florida Home Sellers

Five Legal Protections for Florida Home Sellers

Selling a home is more complex than it looks. Yet, Florida has many protections for home sellers to prevent complications. 

To get those protections you have various obligations, from filling out disclosure forms to making repairs. Title insurance is another thing to consider.

You want to do everything possible to ensure you sell your home properly. That’s why many Florida home sellers partner with Vero Beach real estate lawyers. A lawyer can assess the sale and conduct matters appropriately.

1. Filling Out a Seller’s Disclosure in Writing Protects You From Litigation

The state requires you to fill out a seller’s disclosure form before closing.

This document outlines whether:

  • There is a lien or other legal claim against the property
  • You have a dispute regarding the boundaries of your property
  • Your property has (or had) any sinkholes
  • Your property contains harmful environmental hazards, for example, asbestos, mold, or lead
  • There have been any pest infestations while you have lived there (such as termites)
  • There are any structural integrity issues on the property
  • There are any issues with fixtures or appliances in the home

While you can make a seller’s disclosure verbally, it’s in your best interest to put it in writing. If you tell the buyer about any problems verbally, they could argue that you didn’t later. This could put you in hot water if any issues arise with the property.

But why do you need to fill out a seller’s disclosure? You want to protect yourself from litigation if a problem with the property comes up. 

To get sued by a buyer, they must prove you knew about the property’s defect and that it substantially affected the property’s value. They also must prove they didn’t know about the defect.

Having your disclosures in writing protects you from legal action. This document would show that you explained all the issues with the property beforehand, and the buyers knew of these hazards upon purchase.

2. An Inspection Reveals Any Hidden Problems With a Property

When a buyer has their offer accepted on a property, they have a right to conduct an inspection. 

Commonly, mortgage companies require their customers to have a home inspected before approving a loan. During an inspection, an inspector will visit the property and thoroughly check for any defects.

If an inspector discovers a problem with the property:

  • The buyer can choose to rescind their offer
  • The seller may agree to fix the problem before closing
  • The seller sells the property as is, and the buyer accepts the problem

Common places the inspector will check for defects include the septic system, HVAC system, and electrical grid. 

They will ensure these systems work properly and do not pose safety issues. What’s more, their inspection protects the home seller from legal action from the buyer if a problem comes up.

The Lender May Require Repairs Before Approving a Mortgage

Typically, the mortgage company requires the seller to make fixes when the defects involve:

  • The structural integrity of the property: If the structural integrity of the property has decreased over time, you could have to make repairs before the lender will provide a mortgage to the buyer. Examples of issues with structural integrity include a cracked foundation, windows that don’t close properly, hurricane damage, and holes in the roof.
  • Building code violations: If your property contains any building code violations, you could have to fix them before closing. Building code violations could include basement bedrooms without an egress window, dangerous electrical wiring, and misplaced smoke alarms.
  • Safety issues: A seller must make their home livable or otherwise disclose these hazards to the buyer. Safety issues can include broken windows, rotted stairways, and gas leaks.

If you agree to make repairs to the home, you must make the repairs before closing. If you don’t make the repairs and the buyer realizes they didn’t get properly repaired after all, they could file a claim and threaten your financial stability.

3. The Purchase Agreement Protects You From Any Misunderstandings

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The purchase agreement has all the required information about the sale’s details.

It also offers a level of protection to Florida home sellers by:

  • Outlining all details. With the details of the purchase agreement in writing, you can prevent any conflicts or misunderstandings related to the sale price and the home’s condition.
  • Explaining contingencies. Some purchase agreements outline contingencies—or things that must take place for the sale to proceed. For instance, some offers are contingent on making certain repairs.
  • Revealing any hazards with the property. The sales agreement will also outline outstanding problems with the property. This way, the buyer can’t claim they didn’t know about them upon purchase.

The purchase agreement itself outlines:

  • The earnest money the buyer will pay
  • Any contingency requirements
  • The stipulations on what happens to the earnest money if the sale falls through
  • Your obligations to make any repairs that the buyer requested

If you verbally agree with a buyer about the home’s sales price, you should put that in writing as soon as possible. 

Once you put that information in writing, both parties must sign it, and no one can accuse you of any wrongdoing. A real estate lawyer can guide you through the process and move everything along.

4. Title Insurance Protects You From Any Claims or Disputes About Ownership

Title insurance is one of the best ways to protect yourself as a home seller. While this insurance isn’t required by the state, many attorneys, brokers, and mortgage companies won’t move forward with a sale if the seller doesn’t have it.

Title insurance protects you, the seller, from any undisclosed issues with the property. For instance, imagine that you sell your home and then, months later, learn of an undisclosed lien. 

Without title insurance, the new property owner could sue you. Yet, title insurance could offer funds to pay off the lien and keep the home’s title clean.

What to Know About Title Insurance When Selling a Florida Home

Some home sellers don’t want to purchase title insurance because it’s yet another financial obligation. In the long run, however, this could protect you from significant financial hardship.

Some basics about title insurance include:

  • It’s a one-time payment. Unlike other insurance policies, title insurance is a one-time payment. How long it remains in effect depends on the policy’s details.
  • It offers protection if issues arise with the title. A title isn’t a physical document. It’s a concept that outlines who owns a property. If there are any issues with the property or title, a title search will reveal them. However, if the title search misses anything, title insurance offers coverage if issues arise.
  • It offers a legal defense. If you purchase title insurance through a real estate law firm, you could get a lawyer’s help if another party sues you. They can investigate the issue, negotiate an agreement, and otherwise protect your interests.

You Need a Marketable Title to Sell Your Home

According to Florida Statute § 712.02, you must have a marketable title to sell your home. To sell the property, the title must not have any claims except the matters set forth as exceptions.

For instance, the law states that your title can’t have any encumbrances when you go to sell. An encumbrance includes someone else having a right to the property or land. This could prevent you from claiming that your home has a clean title, free of complications.

When you, as the seller, cannot deliver a marketable title free of defects, the purchaser has the right to terminate the contract with no penalties. If you, as the seller, state that you have a marketable title that is free of any issues (but it doesn’t), the buyer could later come back and file a claim against you.

5. A Real Estate Attorney Can Protect You as a Florida Home Seller

A real estate attorney in Vero Beach can protect your rights through the transaction process and closing. 

By hiring legal representation, you can avoid any claims from the property’s new owner. If a claim does arise, your attorney can respond and handle communications with the opposing party.

Before and during the closing, your lawyer can:

  • Prepare the contract of sale by using a standardized form and adding additional terms to fit your specific sale
  • Negotiate with the buyer’s agent to reach a deal for your property
  • Collect the earnest money from the buyer and put it into your escrow account until the sale goes through
  • Review your title report and resolve any issues before the date of closing
  • Prepare all the documents needed for closing and calculate any amounts owed
  • Request a payoff letter from your current mortgage company and identify how much you have left on your remaining balance
  • Offer representation at the closing and explain what the documents you sign state

By contacting a Florida real estate attorney to guide you through the process of selling your home, you can protect yourself from any disputes or claims. Also, you get the support and knowledge of a trusted professional who understands this process wholly.

Frequently Asked Questions About Being Protected as a Florida Home Seller

If this is your first time selling a property, you likely have many questions about the process and how you can protect your interests. Those questions may include:

How Much Is My Property Worth?

There’s no way to answer this question without understanding your home’s location, its square footage, and the current market conditions. 

To ensure you ask for a fair price, you should partner with an appraiser. They weigh many factors when arriving at a fair asking price.

As a Florida home seller, you want to protect your financial interests by fairly evaluating your home. If you undervalue your home and complete a transaction, you risk leaving money on the table at closing.

How Long Could It Take to Sell My Home?

How long it takes to sell your home depends on many factors—some of which are completely out of your control. 

The economy, your home’s location, and even your asking price can shorten or prolong the selling process.

One thing’s for certain: listing your home at a low price will not benefit you or help you sell your home faster. 

This is one of the things a real estate attorney can help you with. They may partner with appraisers who understand the housing market and can value your home fairly.

What Are the Costs Involved With Selling a Home?

As contrary as its sounds, selling a home costs money.

Before closing, you may have to spend money on:

  • Purchasing title insurance: As noted, purchasing title insurance is an important (but one-time) expense. It protects your interests throughout the process—even after closing.
  • The cost to remedy title issues: After conducting a title search, your lawyer may find issues that impede ownership. For example, they may find disputes over the property’s boundary. Your lawyer could work with the appropriate parties to resolve this conflict.
  • Taxes: You likely have to pay taxes on the sale of the property.
  • Recording fees: The government entity in charge of your deed will have to file it once the sale completes. When you sell your home, you could get charged to have the deed recorded.
  • The cost of repairing deal-breaking issues. Most buyers don’t want to purchase a home that has mold, structural problems, or other issues. To close the deal, you may invest in fixing these conditions.

You have protections as a Florida home seller. Yet, you may not fully understand these protections if you don’t have a real estate attorney. 

By partnering with a lawyer, you can navigate the process of selling your home and everything it entails. 

You don’t want to sell your home alone—and real estate agents are not legal professionals. It could benefit you to seek legal help sooner rather than later.

Contact a Real Estate Attorney in Vero Beach, Florida

Jordan Lulich
Jordan Lulich Vero Beach Real Estate Attorney

If you're selling a home in Florida and want to ensure a smooth and protected transaction, it's highly recommended to consult with a real estate attorney in Vero Beach. 

A real estate attorney can provide valuable guidance and legal representation throughout the selling process, protecting your rights and interests.

By contacting a real estate law firm in Vero Beach, you can have peace of mind knowing that an experienced professional is overseeing the sale of your home and safeguarding your rights. 

Don't hesitate to seek legal assistance to navigate the complexities of selling a property and maximize your protections as a Florida home seller.