Should My Real Estate Agent Verify Building Permits?

Westcoe Realtors, Riverside Ca…This was a question posed to us by one of our on-line blog readers…and it seems simple enough. However, upon further review, like most things, simplicity is not really that easy. So…to help out anyone else out there who may have the same question, we will do our best to explain.

First, for most companies, the answer to this question is up to the individual office and their policies. This is not an issue covered by any law, but more of a liability question for most any real estate office to consider. So…our policy here at Westcoe may not be universal for everyone. Therefore, if you have a specific issue with a specific agent/office, it’s best to take that up with the office management.

So…that having been said, here is our general answer on whether a real estate agent should verify the building permit status of a home, or any additions to said home.

In a nutshell, NO…an agent should not go down this path for a client…but please read why.

Every agent wants to help their clients with whatever issues the client may have regarding a particular home. However, in this case, the reluctance comes not from being lazy, or non-responsive, but instead of a necessity to avoid some potential legal issues that can come from pursuing an answer of this type.

Let’s say that a potential buyer wants to know if a room addition for a home they are considering buying has been permitted by the city/county. This is a very reasonable question, and deserves and answer. But, here is the rub. If the buyers agent goes down to the city/county to get this information, or goes on the appropriate website, and gets the wrong information, then the agent becomes liable for said wrong information.

But what if the person at the city/county got the information wrong, and all the agent was doing was passing on to the client the information that later proves to be incorrect?

Well, in that case, because the agent was the middle-man, and is a real estate professional, the agent becomes liable for the mistake by the city/county…and governmental agencies like this make mistakes all the time!

It doesn’t seem fair, but that is the law. If we, as real estate professionals, pass on information to a client from another party that proves to be wrong, we become legally liable for the other party’s mistake.

So…now you understand why your real estate professional may be hesitant to get you the answer to your question. However, all is not lost. What your agent should do for you is go to the city/county with you, or get on the appropriate website with you, and assist YOU in getting the answer, and explain why. In other words, we will facilitate you in finding the answer you need, but it must come directly from the appropriate governmental agency without us being in the middle.

This situation also usually applies to any zoning questions a buyer may have as well…same theory applies.

So, in the end, we will make it possible for you to get your answer, we just have to make sure it comes from the mouth of the city/county, and not from ours.

Do we like it this way? NO…we would rather provide this service for our clients…but in the legal climate of our current world, we really have no other choice. We hope you understand.

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