Home buyers responsible for checking for sex offenders -- Gazette.Net


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When a registered sex offender moves into a neighborhood, home sales generally are unaffected, real estate agents say, adding that it is up to the buyer to find out whether a sex offender lives nearby.

Real estate agents are not required to provide information on registered sex offenders in close proximity, according to the Maryland Association of Realtors, although sellers are encouraged to direct potential buyers to the online sex offender registry database, www.dpscs.state.md.us/socem, to conduct their own research. According to federal law, each state can set its own criteria for disclosing the information, but each state must make registered sex offender information available to the public.

“As far as the registry, it’s up to the consumer to research that, but I’m not sure if it has any effect on property values,” said Michael Graziano, government affairs director for the Prince George’s County Association of Realtors.

However, as in the case of one Bowie man, failure to alert a potential buyer about the close location of an offender seems unethical, he said. The man, who declined to be named to protect the identify of his children, is awaiting the trial of a neighbor that his children say sexually abused them.

“If he moves back into the neighborhood, I think the county should be obligated to send a letter to say, ‘Hey, there’s a sex offender living in your neighborhood,’” he said, adding he would not feel comfortable selling his home without disclosing that a sex offender lived nearby. He believes doing so, however, would make it difficult for himself and other neighbors to sell their homes.

“Absolutely, this will make it less appealing. No one is going to take a chance on a house if they know there’s a pedophile living next door,” he said.

Alease Bowles, association president, said the organization has not collected any data that would indicate whether home values are affected.

“It is part of our standard contract that we make all of our prospective buyers aware of the fact that there is a sex offender registry,” she said, “... but we don’t know whether that has any kind of effect on a decision.”

The National Association of Realtors suggests real estate agents disclose the physical and non-physical attributes that might impact a person’s desire for a home prior to the sale.

“Ethically, any known factors that can affect the value or desirability of a property should be disclosed. This disclosure is an important aspect of consumer protection,” said Walter Molony, a spokesman for the National Association of Realtors. “If not mandated by state law, most Realtor associations encourage members to have property sellers complete disclosure forms to ensure that all parties involved in a real estate transaction are aware of a property’s condition before making a purchase decision.”

Some residents say the prevalence of sex offenders makes it difficult to avoid living near them.

“There are people like that all over nowadays, and if they’re all over the country, they’ll be here too,” said Hyattsville resident Haskell Massey, 73, who said he was unaware a registered sex offender convicted of sexual abuse of a minor lived three houses away.

djgross@gazette.net