Disclosure of home sales price information varies from state to state

If you live in a hot real estate market, you may receive frequent postcards or fliers from real estate agents touting the sales prices they recently nabbed for neighbors.

In a handful of states, however, home sale prices are not a matter of public record. In several others, you’ll have to extrapolate the sales price from the transfer tax the state collects on every ownership change.

“Sales prices are not public information in all states,” says Laurie Janik, general counsel for the National Association of Realtors. “In most states they are, but there is a pocket of states that tend to be down in the Southwest where they are not public information.”

Some states require disclosure of price; others do not

Sorting the full disclosure states from the nondisclosure states is no easy task, says Robert Berrens, University of New Mexico professor of economics. Berrens ran into the problem several years ago while attempting to quantify the impact of natural elements such as greenbelts and lakes on home values. New Mexico, at the time a nondisclosure state, was unable to help him. It subsequently adopted sales price disclosure in 2004.

“There are shades of gray,” he says. “In true disclosure states, the sales price goes right on the deed information that gets filed with the assessor’s office and becomes part of the county record. In some states, they’ll ask you (the price) and it’s voluntary. In some states, it varies by county. It’s hard to nail down the list.”

Nevertheless, Alan Dornfest, property tax policy supervisor for the Idaho State Tax Commission, took a shot at it in a 2003 survey of U.S. and Canadian tax assessment techniques.

Dornfest says 37 states now have full disclosure; six states (Arkansas, Delaware, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Tennessee) have transfer tax; and he classifies seven states as nondisclosure: Alaska, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Texas and Utah. He qualifies Missouri because parts of that state, including St. Louis and St. Charles counties, have passed full disclosure ordinances.

Home sale prices can often be calculated from transfer tax

“Some states have elements of disclosure and thereby become difficult to classify,” Dornfest says. “For example, Arkansas answers ‘no’ to disclosure, but ‘yes’ to transfer tax. Since most transfer taxes are calculated as a percent of sale price, they can be used to back into the sale price and therefore are surrogates for disclosure.”

Here’s how: Transfer taxes typically run between $3 and $4 per $1,000 of sales price. These often attach to the deed as revenue or warranty stamps. In Rhode Island, where the transfer tax is $4 per thousand, a property showing $1,200 in stamps (a matter of public record) would have sold for $300,000 ($1,200/4 = 300 and 300 x $1,000 = $300,000).

How do Realtors view disclosure? Does nondisclosure have any negative impact on taxpayers? And could open information change the way we buy houses?

Disclosure of these and other curiosities follows.

Agents like to know transaction amounts for comparison’s sake

Real estate agents have a special relationship with home sales prices. Not only do they play an active role in setting the asking price, they have a commission stake in the selling price. They are among the first to know what a home sells for (by-owner sales excepted) if they represent the buyer or seller. Dave Jenks, senior research analyst for Austin, Texas-based Keller Williams Realty International, says agents in nondisclosure states don’t consider themselves at any disadvantage when it comes to marketing.

“I don’t think it benefits them to let someone know that they sold a home for a certain price,” he said.

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