Yikes! Or in newspeak – OMG! This disclosure thing is getting to be quite sticky isn’t it? Remember when it was a bit of a fad? Combine the Property Disclosure Statement with that other former novelty, the home inspection, and you have a potential time bomb with every house built pre-1990.
Imagine this: you have a buyer making an offer, subject to inspection, and the home is a pleasant older two-storey 1,000-square-feet per level built to the code of the day. What’s lurking? Besides the neighbourhood pedophile? (That would be a “stigmatized” property, an entirely different swamp to drain.)
Again, what’s lurking? Plumbing that may shatter at the joints. Gas hot-water tanks not adequately vented. Inadequate electrical service. Lead-based paint. Mould and moisture. Former grow-ops. Buried oil tanks. In B.C. at least, unregistered builders. Archaeological sites. Endangered species. And the big one – asbestos – not only in the vermiculite attic insulation but in the mud that seals the drywall joints. Or in the laundry room tile. Or the ceiling tile. Or the mortar between the bricks.
What the hell – the list will take your mind off the jet fuel pipeline easement on your back property boundary. At least the right-of-way was listed on the title.
Part of the problem is the growth in knowledge of what can do us harm, the failure of the disclosure forms to keep up with the technology of today, the political aspirations of all levels of government to protect us from things that, when the disclosure form was invented, we hadn’t considered. It’s sort of like coffee and red wine. One week they are good for you, the next it’s “get your affairs in order!”
Case in point: Poly B pipe for plumbing. It’s in the building code and has been since the 1970s. Of course, so were asbestos and the leaky condo building envelope. The southern U.S. experienced too many water escape insurance claims, especially in high heat areas, in mobile homes and in homes with ceiling installations, serviced by water with high chlorine content, frequently as a result of improper installation. There is little evidence of similar problems in Canada. However, when the U.S. sneezes, sometimes we catch cold. Half the insurance companies offering homeowners insurance in my community want to know if there’s Poly B plumbing on the site. Ever tried to get financing without insurance?
If you Google Poly B you’ll find the debate is ongoing in Canada and some consumers are opting for plumbing inspections and where warranted, replacement – at least of the fittings.
Another disclosure challenge: native land claims and heritage sites are an ongoing issue on the west coast. Land located near a flat beach or estuary is a potential minefield for the unwary. Excavations in the course of construction or renovation have discovered human remains, garbage dumps, artefacts or other evidence of our First Nations history. The subsequent cost and time delays to the owner of the land are significant and the curative bureaucratic process can be formidable.
Along comes the listing agent, deemed to have local knowledge and required to make inquiries at the local government offices. At our regional district offices – B.C.’s rural government – rests The Book. Its content is revealed only to those who ask specific questions. Hooded robes are donned. Maxwell Smart’s cone of silence descends. You can look but not touch. Therein you may find your listing, colour coded for native land claims, historical sites, heron and eagle nesting trees in the vicinity, salmon bearing streams and Jimmy Hoffa’s remains. Okay, maybe not JH but other remains for sure.
Then the selling salesperson should re-check the sources and paper it all over in the offer.
The lesson – or as they say in almost every one of our continuing education courses, the takeaways? (To those of British extraction, “takeaway” does not refer to a curry or fish and chips.) The lesson for sellers might be to have an inspection done before entertaining an offer. Fix everything. Burn the report. (Just kidding – CSI folks can do remarkable things with ashes. Better swallow it.) For buyers, a professional inspection with a detail of your concerns to the inspector – and still, beware!
Alexander Pope students (the older folks in the back row) will recall his Essay on Criticism in 1709: “A little learning is a dangerous thing, drink deep or taste not the Pierian Spring.” In other words, learn it all or don’t bother. Accept your ignorance. After all, better to be ignorant than stupid. Consider no inspection at all. I asked my favourite mortgage broker how deeply lenders investigated the presence of asbestos in the home. “What does the disclosure say? If it says ‘no’ then no problem, we don’t look any further.”
Be careful out there.
Contact Marty Douglas by email at [email protected] . Follow or connect with Marty on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. He is a managing broker for Re/Max Ocean Pacific Realty in Comox and Courtenay, B.C. He is a past chair of the Real Estate Errors and Omissions Insurance Corporation of B.C., the Real Estate Council of B.C., the B.C. Real Estate Association and the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board.