Like many of its sister states, North Carolina has largely gotten away from the traditional notion of let the buyer beware, at least when it comes to the purchasing of a private family home or other residential real estate.

In former days, a buyer would be expected to look at the home he or she was interested in purchasing and, after doing so, to decide if he or she wanted to go through with the sale. If it turned out that there was a problem with the structure that proved costly, it would be the buyer’s responsibility unless the seller affirmatively lied about it before the purchase.

Now, however, sellers of many types of residential property have an obligation to disclose the defects of the property before the purchase gets consummated. The seller must use a form prescribed by the state in order to make this disclosure. The form not only asks detailed questions about the integrity of the structure but also delves into the status of the seller’s title to the property and any encumbrances on that title.

The seller’s disclosure carries with it important legal consequences depending on how the seller answers the questions. For instance, if a seller affirms the existence of a defect and properly explains it, then he or she is only liable if he or she was what the law calls grossly negligent when providing this information. Generally speaking, if a seller relies on an expert’s opinion and shares the same, then the buyer is on adequate notice of the defect at issue.

On the other hand, if the seller either denies that a defect exists or intentionally avoids answering that question by giving no representation either way, then the seller may be legally liable if the buyer later discovers that indeed there was a defect about which the seller either knew or should have known.