Washington Land

Sunday, July 22, 2007

New Property Disclosure Law Takes Effect Today

On July 22, 2007 a set of 440 new laws comes into force. Seems like we didn't have enough bureaucratic regulations already. If I were in Olympia, I would cut 440 existing laws each year instead of adding new ones. What's wrong with the set of laws we inherited from our forefathers? So much BS comes out of our politicians mouths that it is no wonder that the BS really piles up at the Capital. We will just have to shovel through it to find out which pieces are going to fall in our apple pie. Eww. Well, enough of my extreme right wing political views and onto something real estate related.

The legislature has decided that the Walla Walla Sweet Onion is now the state vegetable. With it's mellow onion flavor and sweet summer taste it's the next best thing to... Oh wait, that wasn't what this blog post was going to be about. I was going to write about the new property disclosure law. Which is going to help the average consumer about as much as the new state vegetable will.

There has been a property disclosure law regarding homes for some time, however starting today, for the first time it is going to be required for unimproved property. That means when you sell residential homes or land that it is possible to build a residential home on you must comply with this new regulation. Prior to this there was a optional land disclosure form used by the NWMLS (Northwest Multiple Listing Service) and the WAR (Washington Association of Realtors). The new disclosure form is very similar with a few additions regarding utilities, water, fill material, environmental conditions, etc. Check out the text of the law for the specifics. In fact the legislatures version looks so much like the old optional WAR vacant land disclosure form that it is pretty obvious that the WAR's lawyers wrote this legislation and our elected officials rubber stamped it. Hopefully most of the politicians at least read the legislation before passing it, but that is probably asking a little much.

Although this law is completely unnecessary from a consumer protection standpoint because there always was a law against fraud under common law; it is another hoop a property owner has to jump through to sell their property. Most of the questions are of a technical engineering nature and if I were selling my property right now quite honestly most of my answers would be "don't know." So I don't know how the average person would know any of these answers and I don't see how giving somebody five pages of "don't know" does anything.

It's quite a different thing to ask a homeowner who lives in the house if the basement ever floods than it is to ask technical engineering questions to an absentee owner of vacant land. Even if a landowner did engineering studies or look into these issues when he bought the property, that is no guarantee that the results are still current. I have a better idea for you buyers out there, ignore everything the seller and his agent(s) say and do your own due diligence with your own engineer.

Asking the seller of property stupid questions such as "do you have legal authority to sell this property?" violates what lawyers call the best evidence rule. At trial you cannot introduce something into evidence when better evidence of that same thing is available. So instead of asking the seller if they have clear title, do a title search or get title insurance and let the insurance companies lawyers determine if the seller has clear title--much better evidence! Why even ask the seller? Nobody would say no--by putting their property up for sale they are implying that they do. What is the point of asking the seller what he thinks about the soils when you can get your engineer out there to tell you about the soils--again much better evidence! I value my time so I don't like to waste it, I want to go to the horse's mouth and get the best evidence. I don't want some ignorant opinion, I want the best evidence.

But one thing the land disclosure law does is make the real estate sale more complex which results in more confusion to the common land owner. However I'm sure that you can find a handy real estate agent to set everything straight for you. You will be required to make the disclosure and I'm sure you can't find a copy of this new form at your local stationary store. Maybe you can print out the law as written and use that to disclose or it just might be easier to get a copy from a handy real estate agent. So the new law doesn't help the seller any, doesn't do much for the buyer but does seem to benefit real estate agents and attorneys. Are you starting to feel less warm and fuzzy about WAR's lobbying activity?

In other news, it is now a crime to cut in the ferry line and you can be fined $101. This replaces the old traditional punishment of getting the s#!t kicked out of you by the guy you cut in front of.

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