This photo shows a ballot drop box at Don D. Statter Harbor. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

This photo shows a ballot drop box at Don D. Statter Harbor. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Opinion: Say no to Prop 4 — your home price isn’t really private anyway

The city’s disclosure rule doesn’t compromise your privacy — it just democratizes access to information.

  • By Rebecca Braun
  • Tuesday, September 27, 2022 3:45pm
  • Opinion

With no contested races on this year’s municipal ballot, the Oct. 4 by-mail election isn’t the sexiest. But there are four ballot propositions before Juneau voters, and they have real impacts.The first three involve tax and spending decisions. Proposition 4, promoted by Juneau realtors, is less straightforward: it would repeal a city ordinance requiring disclosure of real estate sales prices. After some research and reflection, I’m voting no – that is, against repealing the ordinance and for maintaining disclosure. Here’s why.

While Proposition 4 backers say it’s about protecting privacy, real estate sales prices weren’t private before the city’s disclosure requirement and they won’t be private if we repeal it. Sales prices are available in the Southeast Alaska Multiple Listing Service, a database generally accessible only to Realtors and appraisers. If you hire a Realtor, you can get real estate sales prices. The city’s disclosure rule doesn’t compromise your privacy — it just democratizes access to information.

How might regular people benefit from this information? Several Juneau residents have said they used information about sales prices to successfully appeal city appraisals of their homes. I benefited when I sold a home without a realtor in Massachusetts, which is among the 39 states that require real estate sales price disclosure. I was able to set a fair price for my home with confidence because I knew what comparable homes had sold for in the area. I didn’t have to pay a 5 percent realtor’s commission, and I shared that savings with my buyer.

My story may shed light on one reason realtors tend to oppose disclosure rules: when the rest of us can readily access “comps” or comparable sales data, we are less dependent on intermediaries – notably realtors – to make informed decisions.

Markets work best when people have access to information, and studies indicate disclosure increases fairness in real estate appraisal. A Wall Street Journal article called “The States Where Home Prices are Secret” notes:

A 2004 study in Social Science Quarterly argued that nondisclosure states had “inequities in effective tax rates and tax revenue leakages.” In particular, after analyzing data for homes in Albuquerque, N.M. the study found “substantial tax inequities,” with lower-priced homes contributing “more than [their] share of property taxes.” Recent studies in Texas have found the same effect.

The Wall Street Journal story noted that despite the real estate lobby’s opposition, many individual realtors support mandatory disclosure, such as Florida realtor Gene Martinez who said, “I have found that having more information is just better for everyone.”

Proposition 4 backers also say the city’s fines for noncompliance – $50 per day – are onerous. The fines have not yet been enforced and the penalty structure may warrant reconsideration, but it doesn’t justify repealing the entire ordinance.

I have not seen compelling evidence of harm to Juneau residents as a result of required disclosure of real estate sales prices, and it appears to me that the benefits outweigh the costs. Disclosure empowers home buyers, sellers and owners as well as renters, and helps ensure fairness in appraisals. That’s why it’s the law in 39 states, and why we should keep it the law in Juneau.

• Rebecca Braun is a longtime Juneau resident and has worked as a state government reporter and policy adviser. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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