Recent changes are focus of real estate law seminar

Tighter disclosure rules for residential sellers and the city's new criteria for private downtown development projects highlighted Wednesday's annual real estate law seminar, sponsored by Adams Jones Law Firm.

The seminar, at the Courtyard by Marriott in Old Town, updated real estate professionals, lenders and title professionals on the recent trends in the law.

One of the biggest involves the Kansas Supreme Court ruling that makes accurate residential seller disclosure essential in a sale, said Monte Vines, an attorney with Adams Jones.

The high court ruled in Osterhaus v. Toth that a homebuyer does not waive claims for fraud or negligent representation when a home is purchased.

The suit grew out of allegations that the seller failed to disclose water and cracking and shifting of basement walls.

The court found that despite a buyer inspection that didn't reveal the housing problems, the seller's failure to disclose the problems remained actionable.

"The longtime rule for real estate transactions was caveat emptor — let the buyer beware," Vines said.

"But a strict buyer-beware rule came to be seen as unfair to buyers, especially in real estate transactions. So this has been tempered over the years, first by the principles of fraud, that a seller may not misrepresent a property to a buyer.

"That became extended over the years to negligent misrepresentation. And the practice of having a seller fill out a disclosure statement... is a very important buyer protection. You'd think it would make buying real estate much less of a risk for buyers."

Mert Buckley, managing partner of the firm, outlined Wichita's new downtown development incentives policy.

The policy requires developers to participate in a preliminary development conference, then submit a specific plan with an $8,500 fee.

The project is then evaluated through a point system with a recommendation for review by City Manager Robert Layton and a potential City Council vote.

"I think there's a lot of credit to the city and the downtown development corporation for drafting this," Buckley said.

"They gave this a lot of study and they got input from a lot of the players, they went through several drafts of this. It's a well-thought-out process with a lot of buy-in to it."

It causes predictability for developers, he said.

"They know the criteria and it takes away guesswork. It also creates some fairness in the process."

The seminar touched on other subjects:

* How a commercial landlord should handle delinquent renters, including extensions, temporary rent reductions, terminating renewal options and evictions.

* The necessity of electronic or personal signatures on e-mail contracts, absent any other written agreement to do business via e-mail.