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SJC to hear important agent disclosure case

Posted by Rona Fischman May 9, 2012 02:04 PM

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Attorney Richard D. Vetstein alerts us to a case about the quality of information on MLS listing sheets:

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has agreed to hear the case of DeWolfe v. Hingham Centre Ltd. which will consider a very important issues for the real estate agent community: the scope of a real estate agent’s duty to disclose and independently verify property information posted on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS).

The case was originally decided by the Appeals Court, and I wrote a full post about it here. The original opinion can be read here.

In summary, the real estate agent, relying on what turned out to be erroneous information supplied by his client, listed a Norwell property on Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and newspaper advertising as “zoned Business B.” The property was not, in fact, zoned for business use; it was zoned residential, thereby prohibiting the hair salon the buyer wanted to open at the property. Despite the general disclaimer on the MLS system and in the purchase and sale agreement, the Appeals Court held that the agent could be held liable for misrepresentation and Chapter 93A violations due to providing this erroneous information.

This will be a very important case for the real estate brokerage industry. Oral arguments are expected to be held in late summer or early fall, with a final ruling coming a few months thereafter.

Hopefully, the court will give agents some further guidance as to what they should and should not say on MLS.

In my experience, agents don't generally misstate the zoning of the property. But I still look it up; it's easy enough to do. I usually find simple errors, like counting the glorified closet as a bedroom or failing to note that the second bathroom is in the basement.

I hope that this will be the stick that makes agents improve the quality of information on MLS listing sheets. Not just zoning, but matters of room numbers, sizes and interior square footage. Do you think that the fear of the courts will make agents more careful before filling in their MLS listing sheets?

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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