Becoming A Knowledgeable Real Estate Buyer
Editor's Note: While these articles are not meant to contain legal advice, the author acknowledges the assistance of Paul Carey, Esq.
A fair market transaction is one in which the buyer and seller have knowledge of all of the material facts about the condition of property, the uses to which the property is adapted, and the enforceable restrictions upon those uses. California law requires that the seller of real property and any professional acting on that seller's behalf disclose to a potential buyer all relevant information about the property being sold. Examples of information to be disclosed are flood, fire and earthquake hazard if displayed on maps or lists maintained by public agencies. Information on easements, property taxes and other encumbrances on title to the property will be found in a preliminary title report prepared by a local title company, if ordered.
In residential sales, the California Civil Code mandates specific checklists of conditions to be disclosed. Buyers may not want to limit their inquiry of a property's condition to a review of a seller's disclosure statement, however. The buyer might also look to the planning and building departments of the local agency in which the property is located. These agencies are good sources of information on general plan, zoning and building requirements. Review of such agency files can result in the discovery of important historical information concerning the property and its improvements.
Another source of information about real property is the assessor's record on the parcel. Some of the most important information about the property is available to the general public such as the owner's name and mailing address, the assessed value of the property, the current taxes owed and the situs address. In some counties, including Napa, the names of prior owners are also available. The assessor also maintains a published list of sales of property that have occurred over the past two years. Buyers can review this list to compare the prices of similar properties that have sold. The assessor also maintains a parcel map showing the parcel and the neighboring parcels. Assessor maps usually reference underlying filed maps such as records of survey or parcel maps which can be viewed in our recorder division.
There may be more information available on each developed parcel including building permits issued, improvements made with date built and value history. However, California law allows the assessor to keep certain information acquired from owners confidential. This confidential information is only available with the written permission of the current owner of the property. A buyer may request language in the purchase offer which states that by accepting the offer the seller grants the buyer the right to review and copy any records held by the county assessor. By presenting a purchase offer signed by the seller containing such language, a prospective buyer will be given access to information held in the assessor's files. If the seller has any concerns about releasing such confidential information, the seller should ask to review the assessor's records before consenting to such a request from a potential buyer.
The parties to a real estate transaction should consult with a professional before signing a contract to buy or sell real property. Should you have any questions please contact Napa County Assessor John Tuteur at (707) 253-4459 or by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.