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Do I have to reveal why I’m selling?

Keeping confidence: although a seller can ask their agent to keep reasons for selling private, such as illness or a job loss, property information like whether the garden floods should be passed on to potential buyers

Dear Heather,

I am selling my house due to some unforeseen and difficult circumstances that I would rather people didn’t know about. Does the realtor have to disclose to buyers why I am selling?

Worried Seller

Dear Worried Seller,

The answer to your question is “no”. The realtor does not, and should not, reveal why the vendor is selling. Partly because it is private information, but more importantly because it could affect the amount of money the buyer offers.

If they think you are in a tight corner for any reason, they may see this as a bargaining advantage, offering less money. Creating those circumstance would be against the agent’s fiduciary duty to their seller.

Often people tell their real estate agents things that they don’t want others to know. These confidences may range from a price that a seller is willing to take, to the fact that they recently lost their job, or that their spouse has contracted a serious illness.

What are the agent’s obligations in this regard? First, it is relevant to ask what is ‘confidential’ information.

For the most part, information is confidential, or treated as confidential, if the client says it is. When a seller tells his agent that he recently lost his job, that doesn’t mean that no one knows of the fact; the people at his former workplace know.

Rather, if he wants the information to be confidential, it means that he doesn’t want it to go beyond the people who already know. At least he doesn’t want people to learn of it through his agent. He (the seller) can still tell anyone he wants but the agent cannot and must not.

Although the seller may request that some things be confidential, where the property is concerned there are limits. The seller can’t make an agent be party to a cover-up just by insisting that something is confidential.

For example, a seller might say that in a heavy rain, the back yard floods and sometimes leaks into the family room.

Can an agent keep this information confidential? No, they cannot, and should inform the seller of such.

Coldwell Banker Bermuda Realty uses a vendor disclosure form to collect relevant property information.

Since the law in Bermuda is “buyer beware”, this form is not shared in its entirety but if a buyer asks about a specific issue the seller knows and understands that information provided to the agent by means of this form will be used to address buyer queries.

In the long run, full disclosure is always the best route to take as these things will certainly be found out and have a way of coming back to bite you.

Sometimes, good real estate ethics will override the duty to maintain seller or buyer confidentiality.

How long does the duty to maintain confidentiality last? Normally, agency obligations end when the agency is either terminated or its purpose is accomplished.

If I represent a seller, my agency obligations end when escrow closes.

However, it is considered to be good business practice, and common courtesy, to continue to serve those interests.

My advice is to pick an agent who asks the right questions and communicates well with you.

Someone that you know you can trust to handle delicate information and do the right thing. In real estate and life, integrity is everything.

•Heather Chilvers is among Coldwell Banker Bermuda Realty’s leading sales representatives. She has been working in real estate for 27 years. If you have a question for Heather, please contact her at hchilvers@brcl.bm or 332-1793. All questions will be treated in confidence. Read this article on Facebook: Ask Heather Real Estate