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Home Buying Basics in Virginia

By Marcia Stewart, Co-Author of Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home and Every Landlord's Legal Guide

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Venturing into the real estate market in Virginia? Before making this important purchase, take the time to determine what you can afford, the ideal neighborhood, and what features you need or want in a home. And be aware of the state-specific legal rules and issues, such as seller disclosures, involved in residential real estate transactions. With proper preparation, careful choice of a real estate agent, and prudent use of other qualified professionals, buying a home in Virginia can be a positive experience.

Advantages of Working With a Real Estate Agent in Virginia

Before buying a house, condo, townhouse, or other home in Virginia, contact a real estate agent for help finding your home and handling all the complex procedures involved with the purchase. A good agent should be able to help you every step of the way, from drafting your written offer and negotiating with the seller on price and other key terms to coordinating the escrow process and house closing. Your real estate agent should also help you locate other professionals to assist you in the homebuying process, including mortgage brokers and home inspectors.

And the good news is that working with a real estate agent won’t cost you anything. The seller usually pays the entire real estate commission (typically 5% to 6% of the house sale price, split between the seller’s agent and yours).

Personal referrals from other home buyers are usually the best way to select a real estate agent. You can find licensed Virginia real estate agents at the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation License Search. Other useful resources include real estate websites such as Zillow and Trulia which have customer reviews of real estate agents.

Be sure the agent you choose has experience representing buyers, good references, and qualifications to meet your housebuying needs in terms of your ideal location, type of property, and budget.

Seller Disclosure Requirements in Virginia

Virginia seller disclosure requirements are more limited than many states which require sellers to provide details on defects in the property. Virginia’s main disclosure statute (Code of Virginia Section 55-519) actually requires sellers to disclose very little, but basically alerts buyers that it is your responsibility to check out the condition of the property for sale. For details, see the required disclosure forms created by the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation: Residential Property Disclosure and Residential Property Disclosure Notice to Seller and Purchaser.

However, there are a few additional specific disclosures sellers must make:

  • if the property is in “any locality in which a military air installation is located” (Code of Va 55-519.1)
  • if there is defective drywall (Code of Va 55-519.2), or
  • if the property was once the site of a meth lab and has not been cleaned up according to state guidelines (Code of Va 55-519.4).

Also, sellers must disclose if the property has a septic system needing repair but the owner has obtained a waiver from the Virginia Board of Health (Code of Va 32.1-164.1:1). And sellers “may” disclose the fact their property is in “a designated tourism activity zone” (Code of Va 55-519.3).

Certain types of sales (such as newly built homes) are exempt from state disclosure rules. (Code of Virginia Section 55-518.)

Seller disclosures are important for you as a buyer, since just looking at a property may not be enough to tell you what problems its owner encountered with it while living there.

In addition to state-required disclosures, sellers of houses built before 1978 must comply with federal Title X disclosures regarding lead-based paint and hazards. See the lead disclosure section of the EPA’s website, for details.

For more details on seller disclosures, see Considerations Before Selling a House in Virginia.

Home Inspections in Virginia

Given the limits of seller-required disclosures in Virginia, many buyers arrange an independent home inspection, and make their offers contingent upon a satisfactory inspection report. Doing so will help you identify any material defects in major systems (heating, electrical, and so on) and problems, such as:

  • termites and other pests
    • soil settlement or drainage issues, and
  • noise, mold, or odor.

See What You Need to Know About Home Inspections When Buying a House for more details.

Real Estate Purchase Agreements in Virginia

A purchase agreement is a legal document that contains the material terms and conditions of your real estate transaction. It must be in writing and signed by the parties (buyers and sellers) to the contract, and include an offer to sell or purchase, an acceptance of the offer, the sale price, and an adequate description of the property. See the Virginia Association of Realtors Residential Contract of Purchase for a sample.

Title Issues in Virginia

A buyer should always obtain a title search from a title company before purchasing a home. The title company searches public records and other sources for any liens, easements (such as the utility company’s right to access part of the property), or other encumbrances or title restrictions that may affect the property. If the title search locates problems, the buyer should require the seller to correct those problems as a condition to closing.

You should also consider purchasing a title insurance policy to protect the title to the property against adverse claims by third parties, or any clouds on the title missed by the title search. Mortgage companies usually require buyers to purchase a title insurance policy in connection with obtaining a mortgage.

For more details on title insurance, escrow, and closing, see Sandy Gadow’s website, Buying, Selling, and Closing Simplified, which includes a state-by-state guide to closing practices.

Working With a Lawyer in Virginia

Unlike some states, Virginia does not require that buyers involve a lawyer in the house-buying transaction. Even if it’s not required, you may decide to engage a lawyer at some point in the process—for example, if you are buying property in a planned unit development with extensive CC&Rs or you are purchasing a house jointly with others and need help structuring your co-buyer agreement. Or, you may want a lawyer’s help if problems show up during escrow or the house closing.

Check out Nolo’s Lawyer Directory, to find an experienced real estate attorney in Virginia.

More Information on Buying a House

The Buying a House section on Nolo.com includes a variety of useful articles on all aspects of the house buying process, including advice on getting a mortgage, figuring out what price, contingencies, and other terms to offer, arranging home inspections, and closing the deal.

For detailed information on every phase of buying a home, from figuring out your needs and what you can afford to doing the final walkthrough and attending the closing, see Nolo’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home, by Ilona Bray, Alayna Schroeder, and Marcia Stewart.

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