How many bedrooms can I advertise if the county has no record of the septic system capacity?

QUESTION: My clients have a four bedroom home they want to list for sale. I have called the county to figure out what the septic system’s bedroom capacity is, but the county does not have any records. My clients also do not have any records since their home is over 50 years old and they are not the original owners. Can I just list the home as having four bedrooms, or do I need to find another way to verify the septic capacity before listing my client’s property?

ANSWER: Section 93A-6 of North Carolina’s General Statutes prohibits any licensed agent from making a negligent misrepresentation and continuing that misrepresentation through an advertisement. The North Carolina Real Estate Commission has made clear that this statute imposes a duty on the listing agent to “to take reasonable steps to assure that property data included with the listing is correct.” Article 2 of the Code of Ethics also states that “REALTORS® shall avoid exaggeration, misrepresentation, or concealment of pertinent facts relating to the property or the transaction.”

As a licensed agent and a REALTOR®, you have a duty to take reasonable steps to make sure that your clients’ septic system has the capacity to support four bedrooms before listing the property as a four bedroom home. Checking the county’s permit records is a good start, but be sure to also check the tax records. If the tax records for your clients’ home show that the house is a four bedroom, and you do not have reason to believe otherwise, it is a good indicator that the septic was permitted for four bedrooms when the home was built.

Regardless of the outcome of your search in the tax records, however, the North Carolina Real Estate Commission has recently said that you should disclose what you know to potential buyers, which is that the property has four bedrooms but the permit for the septic system cannot be located. By making this disclosure clear and apparent, you will limit both your potential civil liability and the possibility that someone will make a complaint for misrepresentation with the Commission or your local association of REALTORS®.

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