By Kay Wilson-Bolton
January 15, 2006
With an aging housing stock in Ventura County, and in previous days when record keeping was not as precise as it is today, it is not unusual to discover that ages and sizes of homes vary from the common understanding of owners.
It is difficult to know for sure if a 1350 sq home with four bedrooms was built that way unless a good paper trail exists in government agencies.
Appraisers cannot add value to a finished attic room and treat it as a third bedroom unless it has a closet and the work was permitted.
Most multiple listing services have an “auto fill” feature that reflects the year built and the square footage of the home as of the date of construction. Rooms built with permits might be included in the stated square footage, but not always.
Home inspectors estimate the approximate time a home was built and are often able to determine within a year or two the precise date of construction.
However, the accuracy of such assessments depends largely upon the evidence. Manufacture dates on plumbing and mechanical fixtures often provide reliable clues, but these indicators may or may not be present in a given dwelling.
For example, if a home still has an original toilet, the date of its manufacture is likely to be found on the inner wall of the tank or on the underside of the tank lid. If these older toilets have been replaced with newer models, for the sake of water conservation, then the evidence is lost.
In older homes, dates can also be found on the under-surfaces of some bathroom sinks. And in later model homes, usually those built after World War II, there are also manufacture dates on the fuel connectors to gas-burning appliances.
Local building departments are good sources for records. In some jurisdictions, one should call for an appointment to review a file. Their records may indicate the date of construction as well as the local tax assessor’s office.
Sometimes their documents indicate when a property began to be taxed as improved real estate. If these avenues lead to dead ends, see the reference librarian at the local library. There may be some useful public records, such as old aerial photos of the neighborhood. If you can find photos taken just before and just after the house was constructed, you can piece together additional clues.
As time goes on, hearsay from owner to owner can alter the true representation of size and age. REALTORS® must be very careful about changing the auto-fill information from the tax records as it could be considered negligent representation. It is common for owners to insist that the information be changed in order to put the home in a more favorable light. Educate the client and consider the consequences.
Changes should be made only if the new information has been verified, and that is generally through an appraisal or construction drawings of additions reflecting the old and the new square footages.
Kay Wilson-Bolton is the owner of CENTURY 21 Buena Vista with four offices serving West Ventura County. She can be reached at 805.340.5025.