It's no surprise to anyone who reads this column on a regular basis, or visits me at any given Sunday Open, that I bake cookies. In fact I'm fairly well known for this highly practiced skill. On most Sunday mornings, I can be found in my kitchen working on several dozen to be shared with family, friends, and prospective Buyers (look out Mrs. Fields). To be sure, after hundreds of batches, I've definitely got the "cookie" thing down. This morning while bagging up a fresh batch to drop off to friends that have just moved into their new home, I found two cookies hidden at the bottom of the stack, each with a single bite out of them. Really?
Hmmm, this could only be the mischievous mark of my husband, Cliff. Our teenage son Tristan, wouldn't stop at a bite; he'd grab a BIG handful and a tall glass of milk. Not Cliff, he's far more dubious (once, he even set up the dog, but that's another story for another column).
Did he really think no one would notice? Did he really think it wouldn't count? As Real Estate Agents, we are trained to notice ALL manner of flaws and imperfections. In fact, on our long list of agent duties, is what's known as an "AVID," that's an "Agent's Visual Inspection Disclosure," and it's exactly what it sounds like - it's a visual inspection of the property. When taking a listing from Sellers, or once in contract with Buyers, Realtors must walk through the property and create a thorough visual inspection.
Mind you, Real Estate Agents aren't certified home inspectors, roofing contractors, or trained engineers for that matter, but nonetheless, we are expected to document what can reasonably be observed or might have been known about the home (imputed knowledge) and quite possibly, the surrounding neighborhood as well. If the street is about to be torn up for sewer replacement or underground wiring, a good agent ought to know it, AND if the teen across the street plays drums on a daily basis, a smart agent will state it in plain English on their AVID.
For the most part, we are usually noting the most obvious, minor imperfections: "There are scuff marks on the paint, scratches in the wood floor, a broken pane of glass," etc., etc. But frankly, it's more important that we list the less obvious infractions as well: "a bus line runs on the street, the neighbor's dog barks, finished basement may be unpermitted . . ." As you might imagine, home owners can get very testy, if not downright defensive, about these unsolicited observations, regardless of whether they are legitimate or not. It's one thing to fill out the Seller Transfer Disclosure Statement as required, but quite another to be saddled with agents' opinions that catalogue a property's perceived shortcomings. (Don't shoot the messenger, it's the law!) Please understand that our intention is to protect you from future litigation on undisclosed facts that may surface later on; it's NOT to emphasize subjective issues we have noticed about your (nearly perfect) home. I get it, you're hoping no one will notice that the street gets very busy during commuter hours, or that there are water marks on the foundation walls (efflorescence) AND you'd just as soon I wouldn't mention it either (unfortunately, it's my duty). Moreover, you've lived with asbestos wrapped ducts or a leaning Redwood tree for many years without incident, so what's the problem? Like my oh so clever husband, you are hoping it won't count. Here's the thing, once the Buyers move in and discover how difficult it is to back out of their driveway in the morning, or when the first heavy rain floods the bonus room downstairs, you ARE going to hear about it one way or another - and it won't be particularly friendly at that point when you do. Moreover I wouldn't be protecting you to the best of my ability by sticking my head in the sand and pretending material facts don't exist, IF in fact, they do. If there is an imperfection with your home, your property, or your location, better for YOU to call it out (or for me) than to ignore it entirely and hope it will go away. It's a BIG mistake to assume these inconveniences aren't important, that they somehow won't get noticed, or that they don't really count. (They do.) So any information you can honestly provide to offset and disclose these property defects upfront is highly recommended and more importantly, a proactive step towards avoiding avoidable litigation down the road. (It's tough to argue about the school bell across the street, if it was fully disclosed prior to the Buyers' purchase.) BTW- physical components aren't the only items up for disclosure. If you have an unresolved easement, a title claim, a construction lien, an outstanding lawsuit, or some other important material information that is relevant to the purchase, PLEASE DISCLOSE IT! These "forgotten" facts have an unfortunate habit of making their way to the surface and exploding once they hit the light of day. KABOOM! Or as our mothers taught us, "honesty is the best policy." (It turns out our mothers were actually right.) Let the Buyers decide what is and what isn't acceptable moving forward and let them construct their purchase offer with good understanding in hand. Take it from me, a fully informed Buyer is much less likely to deduct from the purchase offer once inspections have been completed, or to walk away should something come up unexpectedly. It's when material facts are hidden that the trouble begins in earnest. Speaking of hidden . . . Cliff, wouldn't it just have been easier to eat the WHOLE cookie - Cookie? Time for another batch . . . (PS, if you want my recipe, write me back. Nothing against Famous Amos, but mine are better!)
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 500 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.