Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Is price disclosure in our future?

County drafting law to require divulgence of real estate sales data


By JASON KAUFFMAN
Express Staff Writer

Blaine County Commissioners are considering an ordinance that would require the disclosure of all real estate sales data in the county. The commissioners said they hope to have such an ordinance in place by April. Photo by Mountain Express

Northern Idaho's Bonner and Kootenai counties are considering the approval of real estate sales disclosure ordinances, and now it's Blaine County's turn.

During a meeting of the Blaine County Commission Tuesday, the commissioners got their first look at a draft ordinance that would require the disclosure of real estate sales data for all transfers of real property in the county.

Under the draft ordinance, which will likely be subject to a number of revisions, all property-transfer certificates would need to be delivered to the county assessor no later than five days after the closing of a real estate transaction.

The purpose of requiring real estate sales disclosure is to create better uniformity in fair taxation of private property. As things stand right now, Idaho's status as a non-disclosure state means county assessors have limited real estate sales disclosure data to rely on when valuating private property for tax purposes. Some figures for real estate transactions are submitted voluntarily but most, it seems, are kept confidential.

Blaine County Assessor Valdi Pace has said in the past that a lack of solid, reliable data on real estate sales has made her job of assessing fair taxes on properties more difficult.

Blaine County Deputy Prosecutor Tim Graves quickly addressed one of the commissioners' biggest concerns: whether the county has the legal authority to enact such a law under Idaho code.

"I think there's sufficient authority to go forward at this time," Graves said.

He said one major issue that must be addressed in any sales disclosure ordinance the county passes is how to treat the private property owner's right to confidentiality. He said the disclosure of real estate sales data should not extend to private business entities such as telemarketing companies.

"We do not have to disclose that information," he said.

Still, Graves did find some aspects of the ordinance troubling.

For now, the draft ordinance, which borrows heavily from the ordinance Kootenai County is considering, states that violating the sales disclosure requirement is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail in addition to a possible $1,000 fine.

This would make violating the ordinance a criminal penalty, something Graves said is too harsh.

"That opens a whole different can of worms," he said.

Instead, Graves said the county should consider a less stringent civil fine of $1,000 for violating the requirement.

Just like in previous years, the Idaho Legislature will once again be considering a statewide real estate sales disclosure bill during this legislative session, the commissioners noted. The bill, which is being sponsored by House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, may have more momentum this year in light of the separate ordinances being considered by Blaine, Kootenai and Bonner counties, the commissioners intimated.

But, unlike at the county level, any new legislation requiring real estate sales disclosure on the statewide level could dredge up the separate but related issue of a real estate transfer tax, Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen said.

Idaho counties do not have the authority to enact a real estate transfer tax, something most Idaho legislators have shied away from in the past.

Jed Gray, former president of the Sawtooth Board of Realtors, spoke in support of the county enacting some kind of real estate sales disclosure ordinance.

"We'll get an equitable taxation," Gray said.

Continuing, he advised the county commissioners to consider borrowing some of the language from Jaquet's bill when drafting their ordinance.

Still, his support for the ordinance notwithstanding, Gray did say the local board of Realtors would prefer to see Idaho legislators take the lead on the issue and approve a statewide real estate sales disclosure requirement.

"We would like to see it universal across the state," he said.

Gray said the board of Realtors would lobby against a real estate transfer tax if the state were to take up the issue.

At the end of the discussion, Blaine County Commissioner Tom Bowman said the county would begin revising the draft ordinance based on all of the feedback they have received in the hopes of considering a new draft ordinance within a month. Bowman said he would like to see a real estate sales disclosure ordinance in place in Blaine County by April.

"So we can pick up all the summer sales," he said.




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