Do sex offenders have to be disclosed when selling a home? A very good question! As a seller or a seller’s agent, it is important that you understand the rules surrounding disclosure before you start speaking to potential buyers. This is certainly a question that could come up when selling a home.
You need to know what you are legally obligated to disclose about the home as you interact with buyers because of failing, to be honest about certain negative issues can have disastrous legal and financial consequences. Selling the house for a good price is important, but so is protecting yourself from lawsuits.
One subject that can be challenging for sellers and their agents is sex offenders.
- When selling a home, do you need to disclose the presence of a sex offender in the neighborhood?
- Do you need to tell the buyer even if he or she doesn’t ask?
- What if you aren’t sure if there are any sex offenders in the area?
- Do you need to find out before selling the home?
The answers to these and other questions about sex offender disclosure can vary from state to state, but there are some general guidelines you can follow to protect yourself through the sales process.
Megan’s Law was enacted in New Jersey in 1994 in response to the rape and murder of a seven-year-old girl named Megan Kanka. A convicted sex offender had moved into Megan’s neighborhood without the knowledge of Megan’s family. The state of New Jersey determined that registering convicted sex offenders with local police departments and ensuring that surrounding communities knew of the presence of the sex offender would help prevent tragedies like what happened to Megan.
It was only a few years later, in 1996, that a law similar to Megan’s Law was enacted on a national level. The federal law required that the Attorney General give guidelines to states that would ensure similar reporting of sex offenders in every state. Sex offenders are required to report to local law enforcement when they move to an area and re-register should they move to another state.
How local jurisdictions distribute the information on registered sex offenders to the surrounding community can vary. Local law enforcement has an obligation to release information to protect the public, but how each organization does so is left up to local authorities.
Megan’s Law And Real Estate Disclosure
When selling a home, there can be some different issues with the property that you can choose to disclose, or not to reveal. Each item can vary in how severely it affects the home and the buyer. A crooked tile in the bathroom may not be worth mentioning, while a flooding basement may be something you just have to bring up if you want to avoid problems following the sale. Another similar real estate disclosure issue is whether or not you have to let a buyer know about a murder in a home. From state to state the answer can be different. The same would hold true about disclosure of paranormal activity or a suspected haunted house.
The presence of a sex offender in the area surrounding the home is one more possible issue that might need disclosure, depending on the circumstances and the laws in your area. The number one rule about disclosure, sex offender or otherwise, is to know the laws in your area. But to be clear, every state has some requirement about disclosing issues with a home, particularly if you are asked directly about these matters.
As a general rule, it is a good idea to be honest about any problem if the buyer asks you directly about it. But what if you are not asked directly? What if you don’t know the answer, particularly about sex offenders?
Factors That Can Affect Disclosure Of Sex Offenders
How you as a seller or an agent deal with disclosure of sex offenders can vary considerably based on your situation. There are several factors to consider:
The laws in each area relating to sex offenders can vary, which means the area where you are selling your home may or may not have specific guidelines about disclosure. Your real estate agent should know these laws and how to apply them to your individual circumstances.
Knowledge of sex offenders
You may not know whether there are sex offenders in the area or not. No specific federal laws are requiring that law enforcement publishes information about sex offenders in the area, so your area may not put out information regularly on the subject. The local police department will have the information available should you ask, but you may have never had reason to question before.
The buyer may or may not ask about sex offenders
The potential buyers of your home may not ask you about sex offenders in the area. Or they may ask. The important thing is that you know what you are going to do if the questions come or not.
Dealing With Different Scenarios
How you will handle the issue of sex offender disclosure will depend on your situation. For instance, if you do not have any knowledge of sex offenders in the area (such as if the local law enforcement agencies do not notify communities on a regular basis) and the buyer does not ask about sex offenders in the area, in most cases you will not be required to bring up the subject.
What if the buyer does ask, but you don’t know? In this situation, you can refer the customer to the local law enforcement agency for further inquiry. If you don’t know, that is OK. You can be honest about this fact and just point the buyer in the right direction to obtain the information.
There is an excellent site called Family Watch Dog that will give you public information regarding sexual offenders in a particular area. By visiting the site, you can enter in the street where you look and, it will tell you if there is a sexual offender in the area. Pretty nifty tool to have.
Your local law enforcement agency may publish information about sex offenders in the area as well, and you may have read that information at some point. In this case, if asked you will need to convey the information you know. Keep in mind that sexual predators come in all shapes and sizes. Do not pretend to think you know that the neighborhood must be perfect because nobody looks like the type to be one.
There is no”type” when it comes to a sexual deviant. The guy that looks your average grandfather could be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Nobody is going to seem like a sex offender blatantly. Although if you see a T-shirt like this one, you might think otherwise.
Should You Make An Effort To Find Out Before Selling?
As the owner of the home, you could ask the local law enforcement agency about the presence of sex offenders before selling the home. But you do not have to, either. There are plenty of homeowners that never think to ask this question and plenty of buyers that don’t either. It is up to you whether you seek out this information.
If you are a real estate agent, you are under no obligation to verify the presence of sex offenders for every home you sell. You can just refer buyers to the source of this information. Of course, if you do have a knowledge of the presence of a sex offender, you should say something if asked.
Neighborhood is Everything
Most real estate agents will tell you that the area in which you live in makes a huge difference not only in the quality of your life but financially when it comes time to sell. The adage about the location being everything is correct. So how do you pick a neighborhood that will stand the test of time? Take a look at the helpful article that details everything under the sun when it comes to choosing a quality location. There are obviously lots of different factors when selecting the right neighborhood for your needs, whether it’s quality of schools, crime rate, access to highways and much more.
Obviously, if you can help it choosing your neighbors wisely is important. Down the road, the last thing you will want to think about is how to sell a home with a bad neighbor.
Here is what other real estate agents have to say about picking a neighborhood:
Anita Clark, a Realtor in Warner Robbins GA, says “There are few things more important for buyers than choosing the right neighborhood. It determines the schools their kids will attend, provides a sense of community, and plays a significant role in their home’s future resale value. If you have prioritized your needs/wants, picking a quality neighborhood is an easier decision than you think.” Anita provides considerations for selecting a top neighborhood.
Kyle Hiscock, a Realtor in Rochester NY, says “Selecting the right area when buying a home is a crucial step that should never be overlooked. It’s important that buyers make sure the neighborhood is the right fit for them but also that they are purchasing a home in a place that is desirable to others as well. When the time comes to sell the home, there could be problems if an area is chosen that many do not like.” Kyle provides 9 tips for choosing an excellent neighborhood.
Highly Rated For Safety
In my area of Massachusetts, there are some excellent towns that would be considered highly desirable and safe as well. Safewise, a company that tracks community safety, has a terrific resource that has shows the safest towns in Massachusetts in which to reside. To be included in the Safewise rankings, a town had to have a population of over 10,000 as of 2012 as well as needing to meet criteria regarding both violent and property crimes, which were published according to FBI statistics from 2012.
They analyzed some violent crimes, consisting of aggravated assault, forcible rape, murder, and robbery, as well as property crimes, consisting of arson, burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft. Calculations were then made to determine the chance of these crimes happening out of 1,000, to give each city an equal opportunity of making the list despite its population.
Some towns in which I provide real estate services made the list including Franklin Ma, Grafton Ma, Medway Ma, Holliston Ma, and Hopkinton Ma, all of which made the top 30 safest towns. Obviously, if you are looking for a safe place to live including a lack of murder or other violent crimes, these would be great towns to explore.
Levels of Sex Offenders
In Massachusetts, there are three levels of classified sex offenders. It is important to understand the differences of each level. Here is a description of each level:
- Level one sex offender – a level one sex offender is considered a low risk of becoming a second-time offender. As such a level one offender is considered dangerous enough to report to the public. Information about level one sex offenders can only be given to the Department of Corrections, correctional facilities, and other state departments.
- Level two sex offender – A level two sex offender is someone who is considered a moderate risk to re-offend. This person is deemed dangerous enough that they should be disclosed to the public.
- Level three sex offender – This is the highest level of designation. The board has determined that someone rated as a level three to be a high risk to the public. They are considered dangerous to the public with a high risk of re-occurrence. It is deemed necessary that their information is released online.
Recently there was a court case in Massachusetts that has changed how sex offenders are classified. This could drastically change the landscape of how sexual offender works in the state.
A Challenging Situation
Selling a home can be difficult even when everything is perfect about the home. But in reality, everything is rarely perfect. There are always issues that must be dealt with. While the discovery that there is a sexual predator in the area can be upsetting and can present challenges when selling the home, it is a fact that must be dealt with all the same.
Working with a skilled Realtor, you can still sell the home for a price you can be happy with. You just need to clarify how you will handle the hurdles that the sales process throws up, including the disclosure of sex offenders in the area.
Other Sites For Checking Sexual Offenders
- United States Department of Justice National Sex Offender List.
- The FBI Sex Offender Registry.
- Check the crime rate of any neighborhood with Neighborhood Scout.
Use these additional websites as a helpful guide to search out and find sexual offenders in a particular state.
About the Author: The above Real Estate information on do sex offenders have to be disclosed was provided by Bill Gassett, a Nationally recognized leader in his field. Bill can be reached via email at [email protected] or by phone at 508-625-0191. Bill has helped people move in and out of many Metrowest towns for the last 29+ Years.
Thinking of selling your home? I have a passion for Real Estate and love to share my marketing expertise!
I service Real Estate sales in the following Metrowest MA towns: Ashland, Bellingham, Douglas, Framingham, Franklin, Grafton, Holliston, Hopkinton, Hopedale, Medway, Mendon, Milford, Millbury, Millville, Northborough, Northbridge, Shrewsbury, Southborough, Sutton, Wayland, Westborough, Whitinsville, Worcester, Upton and Uxbridge MA.