Y'all Can't Walk No Line

A reminder about refraining from explaining the boundary line location

 Cori Lamont  |    January 18, 2016

Anyone who reads my articles, attends one of my classes, or engages in general conversation with me knows that I like a good movie quote and often will incorporate many movie references and quotes in my communications. And this time is no different. 

I recently had a discussion with a group of attorneys from the title industry about boundary lines. One of the attorneys informed me he was currently litigating a case where the real estate agent had pointed out and possibly walked the property line with the buyer. The problem was the real estate agent was not correct in the characterization of the boundary location. The buyer had closed and apparently relied on the real estate agent’s representation; now the real estate agent was being sued based on the information he provided regarding the boundary line location. 

Almost immediately, a quote came to mind from the movie about the life of Johnny Cash called Walk the Line. June Cash, played by Reese Witherspoon, frustrated with the behavior of those behaving badly, yells, ‚Äúy‚Äôall can‚Äôt walk no line!‚Ä̬†

When a buyer asks where you believe approximately the boundary lines of the property are located; don’t walk the line. 

I am not suggesting you be difficult with your buyer, but I am concerned about you making a misrepresentation about where property boundary lines actually exist. While there are a number of reasons as to why you should avoid walking the property line, the number one reason is that you could be wrong. If you’re wrong and the buyer reasonably relies on your representations, you have a problem. What I don’t want you to do is use your personal experiences to determine where the property line exists or look at the survey and then explain exactly where the property lines for that property exist and for that matter don’t exist. 

For example, let‚Äôs say that generally you have found in your experience the fence line to be the boundary line between the properties. What you may not know is that when the sellers originally purchased the property you're viewing with your buyers, the sellers were happily unaware that their fence was two feet on the neighbor‚Äôs property. Since there have been no issues over the years with challenging ‚Äúwho owns what land,‚ÄĚ no recent surveys of the land are available. The simple act of the licensee pointing out that the fence line is the boundary line has potentially represented to the buyer that the property owner would own two feet more land than exists for that parcel.

Give them something else!

You should suggest the buyers engage the services of a surveyor by including a survey contingency in the offer to purchase. You may also choose to qualify your representations. For instance, ‚Äúthe seller informed me that the west boundary line of the property is the fence line. However, I am not a surveyor. So if the boundary location is important to you, I strongly encourage you to include a survey contingency in the offer to purchase.‚ÄĚ Leave the survey to the surveyors.¬†

If a survey is associated with the property, provide it to the buyer and suggest if they have questions to contact that surveyor, a surveyor, the seller or a representative of the local community. 

What's the risk?

Under current law, a Wisconsin licensee can be found liable to a buyer for inaccurate statements made by the licensee that appear to the buyer to have been made from the licensee’s own personal knowledge. In Wisconsin, the law provides that an inexperienced buyer should be entitled to rely on the factual statements made by a professional. 

This rule of thumb applies to all information

Accordingly, when a licensee receives data from the seller, the city treasurer's office, or another third party and states that information in the MLS data sheet or in other advertising as if it were fact, the licensee may be responsible for the accuracy of the information. Therefore, REALTORS¬ģ are recommended to specifically attribute data used in advertisements, such as acreage, square footage and assessed values, to its source and/or use general disclaimers. Disclaimers may not, however, provide certain and absolute protection in all cases.

If needed, I will happily remind you as often as I can that, ‚Äúy‚Äôall can‚Äôt walk no line.‚ÄĚ

Cori Lamont is Director of Corporate and Regulatory Affairs for the WRA.

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