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Bees in the Backyard

When it comes to disclosures, sometimes no news is bad news.

The story made it to every Bay Area newspaper, giving local journalists their best punning opportunity in ages. When Corte Madera resident Nicole Perullo decided to install a bee hive in her backyard, neighbors, city officials and members of the press were all abuzz.

Like everyone else, I couldn’t resist.

Perullo figured she’d give her three children an ongoing, up-close-and-personal lesson in ecology and life science – and help out her garden, besides. However, shortly after getting her hive up and, uh, buzzing, Perullo was contacted by Corte Madera officials: the city allows beekeeping only in certain districts, with a conditional-use permit. Perullo’s neighborhood wasn’t bee-friendly.

FYI to any prospective beekeepers: there are several Marin County cities that allow beekeeping (with a permit). San Rafael is one of four – along with Fairfax, Tiburon and Sausalito – that issue citywide permits. Novato allows hives for non-commercial use, while Mill Valley does not allow them, though the law is seldom enforced.

If the Master Beekeeper Suit beckons, you might want to consider a move to San Anselmo or Larkspur, where there are no rules governing beekeeping. Beekeeping permits are not cheap.

So friendly is San Anselmo to beekeeping that the Marin County Beekeepers hold their monthly meetings at the local American Legion Log Cabin. The association meets the first Thursday of every month at 7:30 p.m. This month’s meeting, in the wake of Perullo’s Corte Madera beekeeping adventure, promises to be a doozy.

Beekeeping is very popular in Bay Area. There are beekeeping associations in San Francisco, San Mateo and Contra Costa Counties, in addition to the one in Marin. It’s a legitimate hobby, and in fact, local beekeepers will make the convincing argument that they’re providing a necessary service, repopulating a local honey bee population that has been decimated by a several years-long epidemic of colony collapse disorder (CCD).

Still, bees are bees and they freak people out. If you’re over 40 but under 50, you might remember lying in bed as a child, unable to sleep for fear of the killer bees, who were supposed to be on their way from South America and were rumored to be capable of stripping an entire cow down to its skeleton in ten minutes. Too young to stay up late enough to see John Belushi skewer the whole thing in a giant bee suit on “Saturday Night Live,” those killer bees lived right alongside the SLA and the Manson Family as childhood boogeymen in our imaginations.

In the real estate world, bees in the backyard fall under a gray area known as “disclosures.” The question only the most bee-friendly of us won’t want to ask ourselves is this: would you buy a house with a bee-keeping past? The question for realtors follows: is it unethical – or simply impractical – not to disclose bee-related information to prospective buyers?

Again, it’s a very gray area. I’ve heard realtors discuss disclosure of everything from barking dogs to neighborhood disputes. In San Francisco right now, a recent condo purchase has led to a serious case of buyer’s remorse – and pointed questions about disclosures – when the new buyer met his new downstairs neighbor, who informed him that he regularly used his home as an “S & M chamber.”

In that case, neither realtor involved in the sale claimed knowledge of the situation – one of many, like bees, not covered by the standard purchase agreement.

I asked several Marin realtors about the hypothetical bee situation. Most were flummoxed, giving variations of “I have no idea,” in response, but almost all erred on the side of caution.

“I would disclose it,” says Marin agent Toni Shroyer, of Frank Howard Allen in San Rafael, flatly. “If there is a bee problem, a hive or bees kept as pets next door to the property or on the property, I’d disclose it. That way, everyone goes in with eyes wide open.”

“I don’t want anyone to be surprised by anything,” she adds.

When agents encourage sellers to stage their homes before putting them on the market, they do it so buyers won’t be distracted by anything too cluttered or personal. Staging is a way to remove variables, allowing the house itself to emerge. You never can predict what might snag a potential buyer, be it someone’s very interesting CD collection (“What? I don’t remember the fireplace. Was that near the Neil Diamond CDs?”) or the very real possibility that your buyers’ religion makes them wary of any home in which a person has passed away. The phrase, “The owner passed away… but not in the house,” is more commonly uttered by real estate agents than you might expect.

However the city of Corte Madera rules on Nicole Perullo’s bees, her future realtor should consider disclosing the hives when the time comes to sell. In the world of buying and selling homes, there is seldom such a thing as a good surprise.

Jane Gray May 21, 2011 at 05:51 PM
Very Interesting, new news to me, and I have bought and sold my homes with no bee's but- the worst thing that ever happened was when my youngster mischievous son , put that fake doggie doo (rubber gag replica) in the middle of our dining room table!!! When I came in from work, I was mortified when I knew the real estate agent had shown the house that day. I called him and asked "Was there anything out of order today?" hoping he would say no, but he said YES! He was upset and angry, can't blame him. LOL,,,, I learned never to not expect the unexpected , especially with my son. My son eventually went on to a career and recently retired as a Senior Chief PO, with duty all over the world,, and he still has a good sense of humor! jg

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