"I just paid two parking tickets for the Toyota," I said to my husband and sons, somewhat annoyed, "Do you know anything about them?"
"Not mine," they replied in unison.
"What's the deal with this sticky spill down the wall in the family room?
"What spill? said the boys innocently.
"Who ate the last piece of cake and left the dirty cake plate out?"
"Don't know? Wasn't me." (Really?)
Hmmm. . . There seems to be a pattern of intentional ignorance with my family.
Whether it's an empty milk carton, an open cupboard, or the garbage bag blatantly ignored by the front door, in my house, chances are that nobody knows anything about it and NOBODY'S accountable either! (That needs to change.)
"Accountability," I travel that road a lot in the world of Real Estate but sometimes it can feel to tentative buyers that no one's accountable when it involves a disclosure package for a "Trust Estate;" the logic being that one cannot expect the trustees of an estate to have personal knowledge about the condition of a home they haven't occupied in many years - if ever. It's also the law. "Exemptions" protect the innocent from having to "guess" at information about a subject property for which they can't possibly have first-hand knowledge. (Oh, that makes sense.)
Still there's little comfort in receiving a stack of documents with "exempt, exempt, EXEMPT!" scrawled across the majority of them. While it may be reasonable, exemptions don't exclude the trustees from passing along information they in fact, know to be material to the home.
For instance, trustees can't purposely misrepresent a property by claiming exemption or ignorance if they have first-hand knowledge that their mother recently passed away in the home, OR that the house sits next door to a police station, OR that the garage floods every winter when it rains (especially if they are the ones who snake the clogged drains each year!). That simply won't fly.
Trust exemptions aren't "Get Out of Jail Free" cards. Even trustees have responsibilities, such as strapping the water heater, adhering to "Point of Sale" ordinances, and passing along pertinent information that's relevant to the house - and to the new buyer!
Dining at House of Curry on College Avenue last week, my girlfriend announced that she'd recently been promoted to a new position at her job. "I'm an 'Accountability Manager'," she proudly exclaimed. "My job is to make sure people are accountable!"
How great is that? An "Accountability Manager" - I want that job (although my husband my argue that I already own the title).
In the world of Real Estate, The Disclosure Package is something akin to the "Accountability Manager" - it's an attempt at making sellers "accountable" as to the condition of their homes and at educating the buying public. And in my humble opinion, a thorough disclosure package not only protects the buyers, it protects the sellers as well; the fewer surprises with respect to a home, the better you all sit. (Law suits happen over undisclosed items and misunderstandings - not those you willingly accept and acknowledge.)
Still, when one discovers new items - not previously disclosed - during the inspection process, just who should be "accountable" for any additional costs? (That's a good question. The answer is tougher to come by, but it's often where the rubber meets the road.) With all due respect to the Fourth of July, this is where the real fireworks begin.
As I frequently remind buyers, identifying the house is the easiest part of the transaction; negotiating the contract and closing escrow are the toughest! You may be able to find your home on line, but negotiating through these types of bottle rockets can be treacherous stuff.
If the accepted offer is already "less than asking," the sellers may justifiably feel that a discount was given upfront - regardless of any new discovery (Buyers, your request for additional dollars may fall on deaf ears). If the accepted offer is "over asking," the buyers may legitimately feel a credit back is a reasonable request (Sellers, the stark reality is that it may be). Either way, negotiations, based upon inspections, are often an unwelcome part of the process that neither buyers nor sellers much enjoy as it potentially opens the door for departure. (That's where an experienced agent earns her keep.)
Boom! Bang! Pow! Here come the fireworks.
Boom! Bang! Pow! If all parties remain calm, there's a good chance we can navigate our way through to an answer.
As long as everyone is willing to be "accountable."
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 12 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.