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Understanding the Fine Print of the Hub's Real Estate Listings

Here's the latest installment of Bates By the Numbers, a weekly feature by Boston real estate agent David Bates that drills down into the Hub's housing market to uncover those trends you would not otherwise see.

In Boston real estate, what you see isn't always what you get. There might be a few items that aren't coming with the home upon sale. There also might be a little more or a little less living area than listed. And there also might be a few known issues, defects or flaws.

While agents tout the most salable features in the remarks sections of listings, they generally wait until the fine print to communicate exclusions, disclosures and living-area disclosures. Can these impact a home's saleability?

An agent I know still remembers the $5 million Brookline home with a listing that excluded the washer and dryer from the sale. The home didn't sell. Perhaps the owners should have been negotiable on the washer and dryer like the $2.3 million Brookline listing for 176 Clinton Road that did sell

The washer and dryer, refrigerator, window treatments, light fixtures, chandeliers, mirrors, flat-screen TVs, and art work, are all common exclusions. If you like any of them, make sure they are coming with the house.

Sometimes more unusual items are pointed out as excluded from the sale, like the Charlestown home where the "kegerator" was excluded or the Boston condo where the "stop light" was negotiable.

Some things might look like they are part of the sale, but they are not. Take the kitchen island at 44 Prince Street in Jamaica Plain, or the powder room toilet seat at 2 Lyndeboro Place in the South End. Both were excluded from the sales.

A $4.6 million home sale in Wellesley excluded the lifts for three additional cars in the garage. Bummer if you needed the three additional garage spaces. A dogwood tree didn't come with a Norwell home sale. And more than once in the last six months, door knockers have been excluded from sales.

Some Boston agents make efforts to point out that the "seller's personal possessions" were excluded. In regard to identifying entities that could be excluded, one agent even noted, "You will be if you miss this one."

Sometimes the MLS exclusion category could be renamed "inclusions," like the recent sale which noted a "treadmill and landscaping tractor" would stay. Considering the house was on a 3.98-acre lot, the inclusions sound like perfect closing gifts.

A Stoneham listing put it like this: "ALL HIGH END PROFESSIONAL GRADE KITCHEN APPLIANCES ARE INCLUDED AS GIFTS FROM THE SELLER!" In a market that had a $378K median sales price, maybe the high-end appliances made the buyer feel better spending $820K?

Of sales in excess of $500K, more than one-third of the listings specified items included or excluded in the sale.

Another part of the fine print is the "Living Area Disclosure." This is where agents explain why the living area listed on a home is different from the public record or the amount actually in the home.

You might find that the living area on the listing includes the finished basement space or you might find that there is additional finished basement space that is not included in the living area (example: 470 square feet at 9 Brookford Street in Cambridge)

Agents seem to want to tell you when the deck isn't included in the living area, though sometimes in living area disclosures they tell you that it is (154 West Newton Street, #3 in the South End). The agent might even disclose that he or she thinks the garage was included in the listed living area (30 Belmont Street, #A in Somerville) or that it was (428 Medford Street, #4, in Charlestown).

More than one-quarter of Greater Boston's recent condos sales over $500K made a living area disclosure. The living area disclosure can add or subtract hundreds of feet from the perceived size of a condominium or single-family home, so make sure you check it out.

"Disclosures" is the third piece of fine print to read before getting too excited about a listing. Here, agents often disclose if they or a relative own the property. They might also reveal a condominium building has a move-in fee (25 Channel Center in Fort Point) or the "photo in the listing is not the actual home" (53 South Cottage Road in Belmont).

They could reveal some defects, like that a condo has some electrical wiring considered a fire hazard by insurance companies (336 Washington Street, #3 in Brookline); or that the basement gets a little water (204 Summit Avenue #1, also in Brookline); or that the association is involved in litigation (1 Charles Street, #4B in Back Bay). Once in a great while, they might even disclose some good news, like 535 Harrison Avenue, #A-605, which says "Roof rights to build a roof deck are included."

Of the condos which sold for over $500K in the last six months, more than 1,000 had disclosures. That's 60 percent of the sales. Around 60 percent of Greater Boston's recent single-family sales over $500K also had disclosures. Check them out. Don't risk coming back from a closing to a basement that's surprisingly sans kegerator. Make sure you read all the fine print.
· Our Bates By the Numbers archive [Curbed Boston]