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Home Buyers Rights & Responsibilities *

Condition of Property. A buyer may wish to employ a professional home inspector, lead paint inspector, termite/pest inspector, sewage/septic system inspector, engineer or other expert of his choice to evaluate the property as a condition of an offer. Massachusetts law does not automatically give buyers the right to a home inspection. If the buyer desires that the obligation to purchase be contingent upon an inspection, the buyer should include an inspection contingency in any offer. The buyer may also wish to check public records to verify information which may have been received concerning taxes, zoning, rent control and history of work performed.

Lead Paint, Hazardous Or Toxic Materials. In purchasing any property the buyer may wish to conduct special tests to determine the presence of toxic or hazardous materials. These include lead paint, radon, airborne asbestos, urea formaldehyde foam insulation ("UFFI"), oil spillage etc. Information from the Department of Public Health will be supplied to you concerning lead paint and UFFI, where applicable. For residences built before 1978 Massachusetts and federal law provide that buyers be given the right to take up to ten (10) days to inspect a property for the presence of lead paint. This right may be waived. High levels of lead may result in brain damage or other serious injuries to children. Massachusetts law does not prohibit the sale of properties containing lead paint or other potentially hazardous substances.

Fair Housing Laws. Real estate agents and sellers are required by state and federal law to treat all parties in a property transaction equally and without regard to race, color, national origin, religion, gender, sexual preference, age, marital status, presence of children, military service/veteran status or receipt of public assistance or physical or mental disabilities. If you believe you may have been the victim of unlawful discrimination, contact the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

Right To Have All Offers Presented. By law, real estate agents are required to present all offers to a seller. The Massachusetts Board of Registration of Real Estate Brokers & Salespersons interprets this obligation as continuing until a binding agreement has been signed. Normally real estate agents will not solicit buyers or continue to show property after acceptance of an offer, unless otherwise agreed. Even if a buyer makes an offer for the full listing price, the buyer cannot legally require the seller to accept it.

Nature of Seller's Duties To Condition Of The Property. Every seller has the duty to respond fully and accurately to any request for information about a property. This is true whether the information is requested directly by a prospective buyer or by a real estate agent who, in turn, may pass along the information to a prospective buyer. Answers that are misleading or are half-truths are improper. If a seller is unsure of information, the seller should not guess, but should qualify his answer. Otherwise, the buyer may be misled.

Septic Systems And Cesspools. Massachusetts law requires that a property which is serviced by a septic system, cesspool or other private waste disposal system be inspect within two (2) years before sale or within six (6) months after sale if weather conditions prevented a pre-sale inspection. Only licensed inspectors and soil evaluators may conduct such inspections. The average cost is $300 to $500. Should a system fail an inspection, the buyer and seller may negotiate who will pay to repair or replace the system or, if the agreement for sale contains a contingency, the buyer may decide to withdraw. The fact that a system passes a Title 5 inspection is not a guarantee that the system will continue to function properly. Even if properly maintained a system may only last an average of 15 to 20 years.

Smoke Detector Certificates. Massachusetts law requires that all residential structures be equipped with approved smoke detectors upon sale. The local fire department will issue a certificate to prove compliance.

Legal Requirements For Transaction
Contract Requirements. Agreements for the purchase of real property generally must be in writing and be signed to be enforceable. An offer signed by the buyer which includes all essential terms and which is accepted and signed by the seller can constitute a binding contract. A written counteroffer made by the seller that is accepted in writing by the buyer can also constitute a binding agreement. Many real estate agents have forms of such agreements for use by clients and customers. Often a more detailed agreement known as a "Purchase And Sale Agreement" ("P&S") will be signed by the buyer and seller after an offer has been accepted. The P&S will then replace the earlier agreement. If you are unsure of your risks and responsibilities under any proposed agreement you may want to contact an attorney to assist you.

Deposit By The Buyer. It is customary for a buyer to give a deposit or binder as a show of good faith at the time an offer is presented. Normally this deposit is held in escrow, but not deposited until the seller has accepted the buyer's offer.

Mortgages And Financing Contingency. If it will be necessary to obtain institutional financing for the purchase, the buyer must fall within lender's guidelines to qualify for a loan. Loan packages, mortgage interest rates, points (pre-paid interest or administrative fees) and terms vary from one financial institution to another and will be adjusted from time to time. If institutional financing for a purchase is required, the buyer may wish to make an offer contingent upon receipt of a mortgage commitment within a specified period of time. Careful compliance with the exact conditions in a mortgage contingency clause is crucial.

Title Examination And Title Insurance. Most banks and mortgage lenders require that an examination of the seller's title to the property be conducted to determine if the property is marketable and will provide adequate security for the loan it is making. Lenders generally require title insurance up to the amount of the loan and for an additional fee, title insurance can be obtained to protect the portion of the purchase price that the buyer paid.

Miscellaneous Information
Zoning And Building Code Compliance. Zoning refers to the right of a local city or town to regulate the use of a particular property. It can include whether the use may be residential, commercial or industrial; the number of dwelling units which may be located on a lot; the minimum lot size; the minimum amount of street frontage; the minimum distance a structure must be set back from the street, from the side lot line or from the rear lot line. Structures which conformed to zoning at the time they were built may be "grandfathered" in under current zoning, while structures which did not conform when built usually require a "variance" from the city or town to be legal.

Apartments. Often homes are advertised as containing extra apartments. Such an apartment may be called an "in-law" apartment, an "au pair" suite or by some other name. Generally this refers to a structure which has been converted to add a separate dwelling unit. The buyer may wish to determine whether such use has been approved.

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