Things that might make a prospective buyer put a checkbook away and hunt for a home elsewhere.
Some forms proposed for use in the area have dozens of specific questions to be answered by the home seller, covering virtually every part of the building and its systems.
The NAR calls it "mandatory property-condition disclosure," or seller disclosure. It is already required in two states, California and Maine.
State associations of Realtors or Realtor committees in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and a number of other states have considered pushing for mandatory seller disclosure. Although no such legislation appears imminent in the tri-state area, Realtors in some areas are being urged to use voluntary disclosure forms.
The campaign "is going very well," said Stephen Driesler, senior vice president of government affairs for the NAR in Washington. "Many states took a look at (seller disclosure) this year or started a commission or group that is looking at it. We think we've laid a good basis for more action next year. The real push on the legislative side will come in January."
NAR, the nation's largest trade group, with nearly 800,000 members, has tremendous influence in Washington and, through state and local boards of Realtors, in most state capitals. Not all real estate agents and brokers are Realtors (a trademarked name) or members of NAR, but about 80 percent are.
James E. Tate, president of the Burlington County Board of Realtors, said he thinks seller disclosure "will be mandatory in the not-too-distant future" in the Garden State. Tate also is a member of the New Jersey Association of Realtors risk-reduction committee.
Tate, a broker at Briarwood Real Estate Inc. in Medford, said his agency was already using a 26-question voluntary seller-disclosure form, and he recommended that other agencies also use it.
"The form is a tool to keep (sellers and agents) out of trouble," he said. "Some sellers balk; if they have something to hide, they balk. But if a seller is being straight, there is nothing to fear. The liability situation is that we represent sellers but have an obligation to be fair to all parties. If a problem exists, we could be held liable. It is no longer caveat emptor (let the buyer beware). Everyone is so suit-conscious."
Robert M. Ferguson Jr., executive vice president of New Jersey Association of Realtors, said the risk-reduction committee had reviewed NAR recommendations on seller disclosure but had not yet taken a position.
"The committee will eventually make a report, probably in November," said Ferguson. "We feel we want to explore pros and cons before rushing into anything."
Dick Prettyman, legislative representative for the Delaware Association of Realtors in Dover and a strong advocate of mandatory seller disclosure, also said, "The days of caveat emptor are gone."
"Buyers should know what they are getting into, and our Realtors feel very strongly about it," said Prettyman. He said the association expects to push for seller disclosure when the Delaware legislature convenes in January.
Patrice Merzanis, director of legal services for the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors, said an association committee "looked at the issue long and hard and couldn't come up with a disclosure form that it felt was appropriate."
"The committee sort of switched gears," said Merzanis. "Instead of a disclosure form, we'll have a notice or form to be handed to buyers informing those who have questions to consult appropriate professionals, a lawyer or a home inspector."
The Pennsylvania form includes a section called "buyer's options," and tells buyers it is their responsibility to determine "that the condition of the property is satisfactory." The section includes a list of "areas of concern" for buyers, including electrical, plumbing and heating systems, roof leakage, asbestos and radon.
Merzanis said she knew of no current association effort to encourage seller-disclosure legislation.
NAR began its nationwide campaign for mandatory property-condition disclosure last spring and urged all state Realtor boards to push the issue in their states.
NAR president Harley E. Rouda, who heads a brokerage in Columbus, Ohio, has been the association's main advocate of seller disclosure. Agents for Rouda's firm, HER Realtors, have been requiring sellers to make a written disclosure of property condition for more than a year, even though Ohio has no law covering the matter.
In statements and comments on the issue, NAR says seller disclosure is best for everyone concerned in a housing sale.
However, some observers think NAR is most interested in protecting real estate brokers and agents against lawsuits by buyers who discover defects after the purchase.
"I'm sure (agent protection) would be one of the practical effects," said Harvey M. Levin, a Philadelphia appraiser and real estate broker who is chairman of the Pennsylvania Real Estate Commission, which regulates the state's 60,000 real estate agents and brokers.
Levin said the commission was "not in favor" of mandatory property- condition disclosure. "We think consumers are well protected," he said. ''The existing real estate licensing act requires our licensees to determine and disclose defects. If they see water stains on a ceiling, we want them to find out if the roof is leaking."
"The first thing people think is that Realtors are trying to protect themselves," said Prettyman, of Delaware, "but the main goal is to see that the purchaser is treated fairly. There will be some relief to agents, because if a buyer finds a problem now they sue everyone in sight, especially agents. Agents often can't spot problems or see what's covered up. The person in the house knows more about problems than anyone else."
Chip Kunde, a lawyer and NAR's director of regulatory affairs, said seller disclosure in California and Maine had "proven to be a real benefit to buyers, obviously, and even to sellers."
"Sellers make needed repairs, and deals are less likely to fall through," said Kunde.
He said that California's law, which covers all home sales, had been in effect since 1985. In Maine, which has been regulated since 1988, homes sold by real estate agents are covered, but homeowners need not make a written disclosure if they sell their homes without agents.
According to an NAR survey last summer, at least 19 states were considering requiring written seller disclosure, including several that already have voluntary disclosure programs.
NAR said it had not designed a model seller-disclosure form "because of differences in construction, climate and other conditions in various parts of the country." It advises members to contact their local or state associations about forms.
The Burlington County disclosure form asks the seller 25 specific questions about the condition of a home, ranging from the capacity and condition of the electrical system to the proximity of landfills and the presence of any ''settling, flooding, drainage, grading or soil problems." Each of the questions is to be answered by checking yes, no or unknown, and a space is left for a description of the problem if the answer is yes.
A 26th item on the form asks for "other facts or information relating to this property that would be of interest to a buyer." Still another section asks the buyer to "carefully inspect the property and, if desired, to have the property inspected by an agent."
Some real estate brokers think proposed seller-disclosure forms might be difficult for some sellers to understand and complete accurately.
"If it's not plain language, it's not an effective tool," said James J. McGlone, senior vice president of Fox & Lazo, a chain based in Haddonfield. He said Fox & Lazo does not use seller-disclosure forms.
McGlone said one tentative form circulated in New Jersey had 36 questions for the seller to answer. Sample questions asked for details on chimney and fireplace problems, presence of asbestos-containing materials, and "history of fire/smoke damage."
"Most sellers aren't engineers and experts," said McGlone. "One solution might be that the buyer be required to have a reasonable inspection to make sure he knows what he is buying."