real estate

Real estate and the sex offender next door

Steve McLindenQuestionDear Real Estate Adviser,
I need to sell my house and a sex offender lives across the street. Apparently, he's no longer required to register because his 10-year reporting requirement has expired. Do I need to disclose this information when trying to sell? I am obviously worried about my home's value holding up if this kind of disclosure is required.
-- Priscilla R.

AnswerDear Priscilla,
By law, you don't have to state that fact on the seller's disclosure statement. Nor would you technically be obligated to volunteer the presence of an offender in the neighborhood who you know is active on the sex-offender registry.

However, you and your agent do have a legal obligation in most states, to honestly answer direct buyer questions about whether a registered offender currently lives in the neighborhood. In your case, that answer would technically be "no" becuase the offender is no longer registered.

However, there is a little bit of a legal gray area here when it comes to answering questions about previously listed offenders. The old saying, "when in doubt, disclose" seems like the best practice if you or your agent are asked about whether any formerly registered sex offender lives nearby -- not likely, but possible. There is also some gray as to how to answer a more open-ended question, such as, "Do you know of any sex offenders who live around here?"

The stated -- but nonbinding -- policy of the National Association of Realtors is that local police agencies, not real estate agents, should serve as the gatekeepers of registered sex offender information.

NAR has stated that agents shouldn't "bear the responsibility of notifying home buyers when such offenders live in a neighborhood." But it also suggests agents direct buyers to public sex-offender data bases. A minority of states such as California require all sellers to alert buyers to the existence of a sex-offender database maintained by law enforcement authorities.

The National Sex Offender Public Registry contains offender listings for most states. Also, for potential homebuyers, the Klaaskids Foundation maintains a bank of information on state registration requirements and laws concerning community notification regarding sex offenders.

You should know that information on such offender registries may not be up to date and hence, may still include the offender across the street. Even the registries themselves say they cannot guarantee the accuracy of the records on them. Basically, the only surefire way to positively link someone to a sex offender record is through a fingerprint verification.

Should a neighborhood sex offender be widely identified, it's tough to tell what the impact would be on your property's value. Studies conducted in the past decade on the subject have come up with widely different conclusions. One said an offender living within 1/10 of a mile lowers a home's value by an average of 17 percent, while another said it lowers it by a 4 percent average.

I suspect the real number lies somewhere in the middle, depending on the circumstances and the nature of the offense.

Here's hoping that this no-longer-registered offender is a total nonissue for you, your neighbors and future neighbors in every respect. Good luck!

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