How Much Property Information Does An Agent Have?

It's not unusual for members of the public, including a Realtor's client, to think that the listing agent probably knows all there is to know about a property. There are indeed certain obligations an agent has, especially with the sale or lease of residential property such as houses, condominiums, or any property that legally is considered to fall within a 1-4 unit configuration. 

Realtors are required to do a visual inspection of the property, which means walking around and noting conditions that are visually accessible, and this requirement also includes disclosure of defects known to the broker but unobservable to the buyer.  The California Civil Code also says  that the required inspection "does not include or involve an inspection of areas that are reasonably and normally inaccessible . . .".  An agent therefore is not required to go under the house, or into the attic space, or know the condition of walls within a locked closet if there seller has not given access. This also includes personally researching the property, although the agent should be able to point the client to outside resources for a buyer's due diligence during escrow, for example. An agent's duty of inspection also does not include the common area or other units of a homeowner association when the buyer is being provided all relevant HOA information required by the contract with the seller. So the Realtor may have no knowledge about the pool or spa and is not required to go inspect it, but if the agent has done previous transactions in the HOA, then perhaps that agent has some knowledge learned from prior transactions, and should disclose that information.

Both the buyer agent and listing agent are required to do a visual inspection and give a copy of their report, referred to as an AVID (Agent Visual Inspection Disclosure) to both the buyer and seller.  Neither agent is required to interpret the reason or source of a dark stain on the wall, for instance, but only to make a note of its existence in order to advise all parties.  It is up to the buyer to inquire further of the seller or hire a professional to get further opinion on such an issue.  Nothing in the law "relieves a buyer of . . . the duty to exercise reasonable care to protect himself or herself, including those facts which are known to or are within the diligent attention and observation of the buyer...".  So the buyer has the obligation to inspect the property, and all the conditions as spelled out in the contract, to his/her own satisfaction.

If an agent does learn "material facts" about a property, whether or not by visual inspection, ie., or if listing agent makes a disclosure to the buyer's agent, or other information was disclosed in the multiple listing service about lack of permits, then the agent is certainly required to disclose that information to the client.   So sellers, when the listing agent starts walking around your property to take a look, this is because they need to do this to help you get your property sold.

Back to the beginning paragraph -- I have heard some members of the public say that they chose to use the listing agent to represent them as a buyer because the listing agent must know more about the property.  But nothing could be further from the truth, because the listing agent probably hasn't crawled under the house either, and whatever significant information the listing agent does have, is required to be shared with the buyer.  

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