Realtors Defend

Realtors Defend Non-Disclosure

At the December 23, 2013 Island County Commissioners Meeting, shortly after the County Prosecutor declared the disclosure realtors had used did not follow county law, three realtors spoke in defense of their 20-year history of non-disclosure.

Three island realtors, two of them owners of Windermere offices, spoke during the comments period preceeding the meeting, mentioning the article that had been written in the Seattle Times.  Below is a transcript of what each said, followed by questions that should be considered.  Or, view the video of the meeting.

Statement made by Clay Miller – Windermere, Coupeville

I just had two things that I want to request to the board.  I am a 50 year resident of Whidbey Island. As a realtor on this island and as a retired Naval aviator, and as a father who has four sons that are in the military, three of which have been in combat, two are in combat right now, I’d like to ask that the board consider that the military is a long-term partner in Whidbey Island’s history which goes back to 1858 when Fort Nugent was built.  The idea of noise in the military is not something that is new to Growlers.  It’s been around since big guns were installed at Fort Casey in 1901, later at Fort Ebey in 1942.  When I was a boy the A-6s were dropping live ammunition just off the island keeping me awake all night and I kinda thought it was cool.  I understand that noise is a problem, but I want to read from our noise disclosure form that I as a realtor have been giving out for the last 11 years.  This form has not changed since 2001.  I want to read it out loud.  It says “Persons on the premises may be exposed to a significant noise level as a result of airport operations.” I can’t understand what could be more clear than noise disclosure that says that it is very significant.

Questions for Mr. Miller:

Are you asking the county, buyers, and leasers to somehow excuse non-disclosure because of the history and importance of the military and your acceptance of noise as “cool”?

What does your experience as a naval aviator and a father with sons in the military have to do with realtors not providing noise information to buyers and leasers as required by county law? Disclosure protects military installations. That is why the Navy spends millions measuring noise and providing guidelines for effective disclosure to prevent buyer remorse.  Non-disclosure is an embarrassment to the Navy and to pilots flying over homes where many people should have been told, but were trapped, instead.

You are proud of the form you have been using and ask, “What could be more clear?”  Isn’t the legal form more clear?

Why would significant airport noise be better than telling buyers about military jet aircraft that fly day and night at 100+ decibels, giving them a map and phone numbers to call, and more, which is included in the current 1992 noise disclosure law which has been ignored?

It is a small point, but why would you emphasize that the form mentions very significant airport noise instead what it says, significant airport noise?  Also, you do not seem to recognize there is a specific distinction between an airport and a military jet installation.  It is obvious to the county, the Navy, and to HUD, and including the specific wording would have been helpful to buyers and renters, as well.

Eric Mitten – owner Windermere Coupeville and Oak Harbor offices

I am the owner of the Coupeville and Oak Harbor Windermere offices and I am here to talk about efforts that people can go to beyond what is the typical form that is provided.  One of the things that I inherited from Sandy Roberts whom I purchased the Coupeville office from was the idea that you would post the noise disclosure zones on a map so that we could talk with our clients about what it is like to live on Whidbey Island and experience what the aircraft noise was.  We require our agents to have these discussions with potential buyers and renters and in my 12 years of ownership no buyer has ever come to me and said that my agent did not mention the circumstances of the noise.  I, like Joe, would welcome any help or feedback that we could do because we can always improve what we are doing, but we have worked very hard to make sure that people understand the noise and that the people who can handle living in those zones understand what that’s like so that people who don’t want to live there can make a good decision.  So, I just want to bring that to your attention.

Questions for Mr. Mitten:

Why use a map of noise zones on the wall instead of following the law and giving every buyer a copy, like you did before 1993?  How do you account for the discrepancy between your stated 12-year history of no complaints of inadequate noise disclosure and the Seattle Times article which said:

When county officials and the Coupeville mayor did a survey of those living in the west part of Coupeville, they discovered that about one-third of the residents were never warned about noise and had never signed a notice. Since the Growler noise has increased year by year, most residents didn’t realize they had purchased property in a Navy flight-training zone. 

Are you aware of the temptation of a struggling and/or unethical agent to sell property in the jet zones without disclosure?  Are you aware that non-disclosure of jet noise inflicts terrible harm on a family and disclosure should not be left to chance?  Living with Growlers is much worse than dealing with a leaky roof or bad plumbing.  A move away from jet noise can cost tens of thousands of dollars, months of time, and stress on the entire family.  A family living paycheck to paycheck, knowing they had signed a disclosure, would assume they would have no recourse except to try to find some way to adjust to the awful noise, instead.  Few could guess the NWMLS attorneys would develop and copyright a disclosure that did not adhere to county law.

What will happen to the buyers who were trapped over the last 23 years when their time comes to sell?  There has been a gap in honest disclosure as the noise levels have gone up.  What will be the effect of honest disclosure of the “full extent of the noise” be, now that Growler noise is comparable on some charts to standing next to the horn on a diesel locomotive going on and off every 90 seconds for hours on end? Who will pay the eventual loss in home values?

Do you realize how real estate professionals have contributed to the lie that “buyers were told” about the jet noise that has resulted in them being ignored by the county and Navy and harassed by their neighbors? What affect has the lie had on the willingness of the Navy to escalate the noise of planes to four times the 100+ decibels disclosed in 1992, and to bring in additional Growler jets and pilots from around the world to fly here, with no hint there will ever be any halt to this escalation in the future?

Joe Mossolino – owner, Windermere, Freeland offices

I am here to represent the real estate interests and inadvertently the message that was in today’s newspaper in the Seattle Times talking about noise zones.  Let me just say as a realtor and the owner of Windermere Freeland offices who has worked for over 18 years here, the noise disclosure is something that we take very seriously.  The Northwest Multiple Listing Service, which was misquoted in today’s newspaper, provides standard real estate forms throughout the state.  Any form a licensed broker uses must be approved by an attorney.  There is a state wide forms committee that meets to discuss revisions and changes to forms.  I’d be happy to bring the issue of the form to the NWMLS forms committee so that they can discuss the issue of the form.  I am confident that the committee can react quickly and make any revisions that may be necessary. I am happy to take any suggestions that the county may have for improving the disclosure form to the NWMLS forms committee attorneys and we can go from there.

Questions for Mr. Mossolino:

You offer to bring the issue to the forms committee for discussion, expressing no sense of urgency.  Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to immediately alert them that the noise disclosure form they mandated for use is not consistent with Island County Law, that many people will be incensed to find that information was withheld from them, and there may be serious liability issues?

Ninety-three properties were sold between June and December in 2013 in the 98239 noise zone area code with no jet noise disclosure, no jets flying overhead, and no jets at the OLF. Not all of them were in the noise/crash zones, but imagine the surprise many of these buyers have had? Even someone familiar with Whidbey and the jets would be horrified to discover what it is like living directly under them, if they have not had plenty of experience actually being there first. Everything is different: kids playing outside, ability to get to sleep and sleep well, pets, phone conversations, celebrations, family visits, homework, crises, grief, sickness, romance, sports, everyday frustrations, hobbies, music, gardening, sports, relaxation, health concerns, learning issues, ear pain, stress.  It wears on a person. You have become immune to the pain of others, so no urgency.

As you resume using the legal form, you’ll trash the property of people who weren’t told about noise when they bought.  Property values have been masked by non-disclosure for so long it is hard to guess how low they will settle. These problems could have been prevented.  But now, the damage has been done and it can’t be fixed.

Why would you need suggestions from the county for improving the disclosure form when you have the 1992 law?  It is outdated, but at least the intent is to disclose.

Questions for every island realtor:

How will this issue affect the real estate profession and the trust that is required for a smooth transaction?  Many glowing stories are told about professional realtors who routinely go beyond the law to ensure that every buyer that they represent is fully informed, often even before taking a client to look.  It is unfortunate that their reputation will be tarnished by the decision of NWMLS attorneys who made a bad choice and hurt a lot of people.

It is easy to pretend that the disclosure form used until January of this year was effective and that no more was required, when it was totally inadequate.  People have grown so used to ignoring buyers in the noise zones and pretending that they were told, that logic and compassion seems to have vanished.   Has pretending “they were told” been easier than noticing how serious their pain actually is, and realizing that not telling them about the noise is what resulted in their pain? Has there actually been some question all these years that there was something rotten in the noise disclosure? Wasn’t it even discussed from time to time?

People wonder why houses are built in noise and crash zones here on Whidbey. Almost all of Admirals Cove is in the OLF crash zone.  All of them were permitted by the county.  Many were built by developers and sold by realtors with no disclosure, then passed from buyer to buyer.

Many have profited from the failure to use the legal disclosure.

  1. Island County, struggling to make ends meet, has profited from taxes. The County ignored and even harassed the complainers based on the lie, as well, freeing them from their commission to protect citizens as their first priority.
  2. Realtors have profited by masking value and having a higher turnover of limited market inventory.
  3.  Decisions about noise, altitudes, numbers, etc. have been made because full noise disclosure has been assumed. Politicians have enjoyed freedom from guilt as they inflict pain on people who are pinned under the noise.  After all, “they were told. “
  4. The Navy has enjoyed popularity in a community which shows their support in an almost game-like competition of harassing noise complainers.  Harassers  feel they are scoring points against “the opposition” to save the OLF.

This has been at the expense of people who were NOT TOLD.

What is going to happen when every person who leased or bought homes under the jets realizes that the county disclosure law was intended to protect them, but realtors opted to use a misleading form instead? Their question, regardless of what their realtor did or did not tell them, will be, “Could I have made a better decision for my family if I had been given the legal form and map that I needed and deserved instead of being misled?”

Click the link below to read Realtor Internet comments regarding articles on the legality of the noise disclosure.

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