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Posted On: 10/08/2008

Shortly after living at our new house we ran into a problem with a bat. We thought we took care of it, but recently it's back - plus a whole gang. We've had one killed, which cost us $170, and the exterminator said it would be $1,000-$1,500 to bat-proof the house. We were wondering if that information should have been disclosed to us at time of closing, or if something like that has to be disclosed?

A: Disclosure requirements vary by state so you need to speak with a local broker or attorney for rules that might apply to the property. That said, I'd argue that there is no universal rule and rarely a need to disclose. Here's why:

First, a bat that randomly flies into a house is an "event" and not a condition. There's nothing to disclose.

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Second, a visual inspection of an attic or other area by a purchaser or a professional home inspector might readily find either bats or evidence of bats. Home inspectors, however, may not be required to identify a bat problem because it's not a structural matter in the sense of a broken beam. On the other hand a large number of bats or their droppings suggests ready and improper access to the home and that open access, to me, should be seen as an inspection issue.

Third, an owner may not know that bats are present, so how do you prove that the owner deliberately failed to disclose the presence of bats? It's cheaper to bat-proof the house than to hire an attorney.

Speak with several licensed pest controllers for their bat-removal advice, and get a few estimates if you elect to have work done.

Q: You recently said the "the declining markets concept has gone away." Can you flesh this out a little more for me?

A: Late last year both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac said they would require more down to buy homes in "declining areas." From the perspective of a loan buyer, the concept makes some sense because if you buy mortgages you want the underlying security - the houses used to back the loans in case of default - to hold its value. Seen another way, less property value equals more lender risk.

The problem is that it's difficult to define a "declining market." Do you include an entire metropolitan statistical area or just a ZIP code? Do you mean that values for all homes and in all neighborhoods are falling, or just some? If just some, how is such a label fair to homeowners with strong property values? More importantly, if you define an area as "declining" and you require more down, does not that requirement by itself result in less buyer demand and thus a declining market?

On May 16, both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac eliminated their declining-markets policy. Now down-payment requirements are the same and there is no longer a "declining markets" penalty.

Q: I recently tried to put my condo on the market and found that it was 150 square feet smaller than originally advertised. How did my home shrink?

A: Protocol Z765-2003 of the American National Standards Institute provides a standardized way to calculate square footage - but no one has to use it.

"The square-footage standard is offered for voluntary application," says the NAHB Research Center. "It must be applied as a whole, and is not meant to replace or supersede any legal or otherwise required existing area measurement method. It may be used in proposed, new or existing single-family homes of any style or construction, but is not applicable to apartment/multifamily buildings, and does not cover room dimensions."

Since we have a voluntary "standard" which no one has to use, it's entirely possible that the ad marketing the property was "correct" - and that your current measurement was equally accurate.

If you speak with appraisers and assessors you will find that they have measurement standards that they employ consistently in their work, however, there is no rule that says another form of measurement cannot be used for marketing purposes. As an example, do you measure wall-to-wall for a room, or from halfway into a wall and then to halfway into an opposing wall? Do you count garages and basements or only areas that are finished? Do you count all finished areas or only those that are heated and air-conditioned?

The bottom line is this: When someone tells you that a property has so many square feet, ask how they measured. And then see if the couch fits ...

Peter G. Miller is the author of The Common-Sense Mortgage and a veteran real estate columnist. Have a question? Please write to peter@ctwfeatures.com.

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