Hauntings, Deaths, & Meth Labs: Real Estate Disclosures in Maine

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Education & Training with Better Homes & Gardens | The Masiello Group


Ok, I’ll admit that is probably not the most positive title in the world, but it does sum up some of the areas of real estate property disclosure law that seem to cause the most confusion.

This is part 2 of a three part series inspired by an article I read about an Oregon family who unknowingly purchased a foreclosure property that had previously been used as a meth lab.  Could this happen in Maine?  Would you as the buyer have any recourse?

avoiding problems

Yes.  And yes.

Anything CAN happen, however we do have rules and regulations in Maine designed to protect home buyers...and sellers for that matter, from unwanted and unnecessary problems and the lawsuits they tend to spawn.

 


Whether you sell your home with a real estate agent or not, there are 6 things you must disclose to buyers when selling your home in Maine (part 1 of the series.)  When real estate agents are involved in the transaction, there are more rules and protections in place.  Buyer agents in Maine have more responsibility for disclosures to their clients than listing agents.  Many buyers and sellers may not fully understand the ins and outs of what Maine real estate agents can, cannot, and in some cases must tell potential buyers.

The disclosure differences between a listing agent and a buyer agent:
A Maine listing agent must disclose and all items required by law and any additional items their seller client has directed them to disclose.  The listing agent is required to be honest, but if a buyer asks a question regarding an item not required by law that the seller has not given them permission to disclose, he/she cannot answer the question.  They cannot lie about it, but the honest answer to those questions may simply be “I am not authorized to tell you that.”

Maine buyer agentsThe requirements for a buyer agent in the state of Maine go above and beyond those of the listing agent.  A buyer agent must disclose anything they know or “should have known” about the property to their buyer client.  This is why it is so important to use the services of a competent and trusted buyer agent when purchasing a home.  This requirement includes more than simply the material facts of the property.  

So what falls into the “should have known” category?  Quite a lot actually.  A buyer agent “should have known” anything that is included in the property file at the town office, since it is available for them to review.  A buyer agent “should have known” that the home was built in a flood zone since they have access to that information.  Certainly they “should have known” that those water marks all the way around the basement about a foot off the floor could mean that the basement has flooded (in which case they would recommend their buyer client consult with a building inspector.)  Buyer agents are not professional inspectors, but there are certain items that should send up red flags, especially when they indicate that the seller may not have been completely honest with their property disclosures.

Experienced buyer agents who receive a seller property disclosure that is incomplete contact the listing agent to get answers to any items left blank by the seller.  They review the property file, tax records, and any code compliance records at the town office.  They google the property address to see if any public records, police files, or other items pop up.  They do a preliminary search of the registry of deeds to see if there are any liens on the property.  They also keep up on any local news regarding current issues and/or development plans.  All of this information is then provided to their buyer clients so that they can make the best decisions possible.

There are no guarantees in the “should have known” category.  However, Maine real estate agents representing buyers are expected to show due diligence and provide as much information as possible to their clients.

What about those hauntings, deaths, and meth labs?
Is it haunted?A home seller in Maine does not have to disclose items such as a death in the home, a home believed to be haunted, the known felon living next door, or the state’s plans to put a highway through right next to the property.  Some states have disclosure laws for these “stigmatized property” items, but Maine does not.  In fact, a listing agent cannot disclose these items unless he/she has the written permission of the seller.  However, it could be argued that a local buyer agent “should have known” these little tidbits of information and informed his/her buyer client.  Maine buyer agents must do more research to show due diligence in gathering information for their clients.  The “should have known” category often gets decided in a court of law, but savvy buyer agents have learned to do a thorough investigation of the property to protect their clients and themselves.  

To see the list of disclosure items required in the state of Maine, please read part 1 of the series:  To Tell Or Not To Tell?  6 Things All Maine Home Sellers Must Disclose.

Does this mean a home buyer should just rely on the information their agent gives them?  No way!  Read about the 5 Things A Home Buyer Can Do To Ensure A Happily Ever After in part 3 of the series tomorrow.

Posted by

The Maine Real Estate Network - Kristen Wheatley - Lewiston-Auburn Maine Real Estate

Maine Realtor Kristen Wheatley  

Kristen Wheatley is a Maine Realtor working and living in Central Maine.  She specializes in the sale of residential and investment property in the Lewiston-Auburn area and surrounding towns.  Kristen uses the latest tools and mobile technology to provide a superior experience and results for her clients and enjoys sharing these technology skills and teaching other real estate professionals and local small business owners.

The Maine Real Estate NetworkKristen Wheatley, Associate Broker
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34 Center Street - Auburn ME 04210
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207-240-2250     www.lamainerealestate.com

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Rainmaker
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Hella Mitschke Rothwell
(831) 626-4000 - Honolulu, HI
Hawaii & California Real Estate Broker

Kristen: Maine is hard on buyer agents! Yet here in California, we need to disclosure nuisances that could include a known noisy neighbor, if it's known for hauntings, and certainly unusual deaths such as suicide. REO listings have "no warranties". It's up to the buyer to investigate the property. A freeway down the road? You better disclose it. Etc. In my opinion, it's better to disclose than not to disclose, doesn't matter if you are the buyers agent or the listing agent or the seller.

Oct 03, 2012 10:05 AM #1
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Cindy Jones
Integrity Real Estate Group - Woodbridge, VA
Pentagon, Fort Belvoir & Quantico Real Estate News

Kristen in Virginia we are "buyer beware."   Sellers are only required to disclose material defects to the property and the rest is up to the buyer to figure out through an inspection and their own research.

Oct 03, 2012 10:09 AM #2
Rainmaker
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Kristen Wheatley
Better Homes & Gardens | The Masiello Group - Brunswick, ME
Supporting Success - Best Job in the World!

Yes Hella.  Of course, it is also fairly easy to get lots of extra info here.  A batch of brownies for the town office folks, and they'll fill you in on everything...a trip to the market on the corner, and you'll know everything there is to know about the neighbors, etc.   I've heard about some of the requirements in California.  I was amazed at what needs to be disclosed.  Not too many highways going in here, but it could happen.  :-)    I agree whole heartedly that it is usually much better to disclose everything up front.  Saves a lot of time, misunderstandings, and bad feelings (i.e. lawsuits) later.

Oct 03, 2012 10:10 AM #3
Rainmaker
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Kristen Wheatley
Better Homes & Gardens | The Masiello Group - Brunswick, ME
Supporting Success - Best Job in the World!

Cindy:  It is always interesting to hear about the differences between states.  Buyer agency is relatively new here (compared to other states) and I think the state felt the need to show added value.  Maybe someday we'll have more consistency between the states.  That is one of the things that causes a lot of confusion for folks.  They sell their home in another state where they had to disclose EVERYTHING and then are shocked when they find out that the sellers of the home they are looking at here does not have to disclose the same info.  ...or they are pretty happy because they left a state where they didn't have to give much info and come here and know they can count on their buyer agent (if they pick a good one) to provide them with everything they can dig up.

Oct 03, 2012 10:16 AM #4
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Michelle Carr Crowe,Altas Just Call...408-252-8900!
Get Results Team...Just Call (408) 252-8900! . DRE #00901962 . Licensed to Sell since 1985 . Altas Realty - San Jose, CA
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Great post. We have to disclose a LOT in Silicon Valley, Calif.

Oct 03, 2012 10:24 AM #5
Rainmaker
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Kristen Wheatley
Better Homes & Gardens | The Masiello Group - Brunswick, ME
Supporting Success - Best Job in the World!

Thanks Michelle.  We basically have info in 6 areas that needs to be disclosed:  Water system, waste disposal system, insulation, heating system, hazardous materials, and known defects.

Just out of shear curiosity, what other items do people in your area have to disclose?  I'm always curios.  ... AND I might use that list to show my sellers when they balk at filling out out disclosure.  :-)  It is understandably tedious for them, but I don't think they all realize how little is required compared to some states.

Oct 03, 2012 10:32 AM #6
Anonymous
Joe

Should the selling disclose that the MDOT is widening the road and taking most of frontage . The home will be devalued We were not informed if we had been told we would not have purchased this property

Jun 07, 2018 09:48 AM #7
Rainmaker
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Kristen Wheatley
Better Homes & Gardens | The Masiello Group - Brunswick, ME
Supporting Success - Best Job in the World!

Thank you for your question Joe. In Maine the seller may not be required by law to disclose that as it may not be considered a material fact about the home itself, even though an argument could be made that it is a material fact about the complete property. It honestly does not necessarily fall under something a buyer agent would know either. Buyer agents are required to do their due diligence and share with you anything they know about the home or “should have known” meaning items easily discoverable. A future DOT expansion is actually not always that easily discoverable. If the sellers did know about the future expansion they should have disclosed, but may not have been required to by law. If your buyer agent knew about it, they ARE required by law to disclose that to you. Unfortunately this is one of those situations that may need to be settled in court. We always recommend to sellers that full disclosure of any items is the best course of action. The big question here would be who knew about this prior to closing. In Maine buyers have an obligation to research the properties they buy as well, but not all buyers know this. I am not an attorney, full disclosure. You may want to begin by contacting all parties involved in the transaction and see if you can come to some sort of resolution. If your communications are unsatisfactory, ask for the contact information of the agent’s designated broker. They are required to give that to you. This is one of the reasons we train agents to work only in areas they are familiar with. If an agent is familiar with an area, they would know about these things.

Jun 09, 2018 12:47 PM #8
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