Prince Georgeís County is home to about 800 convicted sex offenders. Nearly 100 of the countyís sex offenders have been convicted of abusing a minor.
Yet, when a homebuyer is considering where to move, they likely wonít know whether their prospective neighbor is a sexual offender, unless they check the Maryland Sex Offender Registry for themselves. In Maryland, real estate agents are not required to disclose whether sex offenders live nearby; they are only required to alert purchasers about the sex offender database.
On the surface, the rule may seem minor. After all, the recidivism rate within three years of a sex offenderís release from prison is at about 5 percent, according to a Bureau of Justice statistics report published in 2003. And if sex offender locations had to be revealed as part of a home tour, it could open the door to questions about other crimes committed by neighbors that would be of concern, such as murder and identity theft.
But thereís something to be said for knowing significant details about neighbors — and the neighborhood — before a home is bought.
One Bowie man, who declined to be identified to protect the identity of his children who were allegedly molested by a neighbor, pointed out that he would feel guilty selling his home to someone who had children but didnít take the time to check the database. Walter Molony, spokesman for the National Association of Realtors, had a similar take, explaining that information about convicted sexual offenders living nearby is ďan important aspect of consumer protection.Ē
ďEthically, any known factors that can affect the value or desirability of a property should be disclosed,Ē Molony told The Gazette.
Alease Bowles, president of the Prince Georgeís County Association of Realtors, said the association hasnít collected data regarding whether having sex offenders nearby would lessen home values, adding that the association isnít sure whether such information ďhas any kind of effect on a decision.Ē
Plain and simple: It would.
Itís a no-brainer that a single woman would likely feel uncomfortable moving next door to a rapist, and a parent would probably avoid a home near someone convicted of sexually abusing a minor.
In actuality, the lack of required disclosure regarding sex offenders benefits real-estate agents and the seller, but not the buyer.
And between the mounds of paperwork (which includes a reminder that itís up to the buyer to check the registry), inspections, negotiations and other duties that come with purchasing a home, it would be understandable if the purchaser overlooks checking the registry. In the rare case that a homebuyer doesnít have access to a computer, the information would be difficult to access.
Federal law requires states to make the sex offender database available to the public; individual states get to decide disclosure details.
Maryland should make disclosure mandatory in real-estate transactions.
Itís better for a homebuyer to move in knowing who lives nearby, as limited as the information may be, rather than not knowing at all.