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Listing a Home? How Much Do You Need to Verify?
By Barbara Pronin
As the listing agent, you’ve been hired by the sellers to attract as many buyers as possible. You dutifully record what the sellers disclose in terms of size, condition, taxes, and mortgage. You may pull the taxes, check public records, and check with the HOA, if there is one. How much more do you need to verify before moving into marketing mode?
 
Not much, according to veteran agent Dorcas Helfant-Browning with Coldwell Banker Professional REALTORS® in Virginia Beach, Va. “If the paper trail looks right”, she said, “you are responsible only for reporting what you see and what you are told by the sellers.”
 
After that, she said, it is up to the buyers to check into anything they question.
 
“You are not required to be a math genius,” Helfant-Browning pointed out. “If the house has many rooms or a lot of weird angles, you are not expected to get down on your hands and knees to verify the total square footage.”
 
Also, you don’t need to be an engineer. “If a seller says that crack in the wall was there when they bought the home, it is not up to you to verify when or where it came from.” As she points out, that is why buyers should pay for a home inspection before they close on the sale.
 
Courts, including the California’s Fourth Appellate District Court, uphold that common view.
 
“In making the required disclosures, the seller’s agent is required only to act in good faith and convey the seller’s representations as he or she believes them to be true,” the court said in a recent decision. “Once the sellers and their agent make the required disclosures, it is incumbent on the purchasers to investigate and make an informed decision based thereon.”
 
While statutes vary from state to state, MLSs encourage brokers to take care in reporting information. Some use data checkers or oversight committees to help confirm accuracy. Others go as far as to recommend including phrases such as, ‘information deemed reliable but not guaranteed’ when listing or marketing the property.      
 
We are all familiar with marketing euphemisms used to appeal to buyers – ‘dollhouse cutie’ instead of ‘downright cramped,’ or ‘has potential’ instead of ‘needs a ton of work.’ But describing a home in its best light is not the same as misrepresentation.
 
“You’re not expected to verify whether the sellers had a permit when they enlarged and remodeled the kitchen,” Helfant-Browning said. “But do be truthful about what you see and be aware of today’s standards. Don’t describe that kitchen as ‘new’ if the work was done 15 years ago.”
 
Note: This article should not be taken as legal advice. In the event of any questions regarding legal obligations, please consult with your legal counsel.
 
Barbara Pronin is an award-winning writer based in Orange County, Calif. A former news editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism and corporate communications, she has specialized in real estate topics for over a decade.

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