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Saturday, Feb 16 2013 05:00 PM

When a city's building freeways, Realtors who know something must say something

BY ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL Californian staff writer aboessenkool@bakersfield.com

Homes are still being sold in Westpark, despite the fact a freeway may very well be built through it.

Most prospective buyers, say Realtors, come in with some knowledge of it, but ask lots of questions, like how the house they're considering would be affected.

So what information must be disclosed -- and when?

Gail Malouf, a Coldwell Banker Realtor, said she shows buyers for any house in Bakersfield a map of planned freeway routes, including for the Centennial Corridor. And she has them sign the map, to acknowledge they've been made aware of the projects.

In a house she shows on La Mirada, which would be near Alternative B's path but not in it, she has a map of the route for buyers to see.

Surprisingly, some would-be buyers come in with zero knowledge of the highway plans, she said.

"There are people in town that had no idea, so I don't know if they don't listen to the news, read the paper," she said. "That's another reason I like to give a map of everything, so people know what's going on."

Malouf, like other Realtors interviewed, said she also directs people to Caltrans for more information.

"When it comes to disclosing expert information, we always refer them to find out more information on their own," said Joe Newton, who has taught ethics classes for Realtors and is the ombudsman for the Bakersfield Association of Realtors.

Realtors won't know the specifics of potential routes for the Centennial Corridor like Caltrans staffers will, so potential buyers should contact them.

That doesn't mean Realtors, or sellers, can withhold information they know.

Realtors are required to disclose anything they know that would affect a home's value or desirability, Newton said. That could be nearby barking dogs, offensive smells, a deteriorating neighborhood.

"Anything we personally know that would affect those two categories ... we are to disclose that to our clients" in writing, he said. "We don't keep this information to ourselves, but pass it on."

Sellers fill out a Transfer Disclosure Statement for the property, listing anything they know at that moment that could affect the value and use of the house. Caltrans hasn't made a final decision on which route to build, if any, but that doesn't matter, Newton said.

If a seller knows about the potential for a freeway, he has to say so.

"Clearly, the (Centennial) Corridor can affect the use of the property sometime in the future," he said.

There's a catch.

Anecdotally, several people have told The Californian that although they bought homes in Westpark within the last year, at least one of which could be taken down by the project, they weren't told by previous owners or the real estate agent about the possibility of the freeway in their neighborhood.

That would seem like a clear violation. But, Newton said, proving what someone did or didn't know -- and when -- is difficult.

In that way, it's up to potential buyers to ask good questions, he said. The seller has to answer honestly, including if he doesn't know about the potential freeway project at all.

"Most sellers today would say, 'All I know is what I read in the papers because Caltrans and all the agencies are not on the same page yet,'" Newton said.

"It's incumbent on the buyer to do their own research or homework and look into something that they're disturbed about," he added. "T his is where the Realtor should say, 'Let's make some further inquires about your question.'"

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