Dear Barry,

After buying our home, we learned that the next-door neighbors are dealing drugs. The police have raided the place twice in three months, but the illegal activity continues. The sellers never disclosed any of this when we bought the property and have since moved out of state, so we have no recourse. To make matters more interesting, the people across the street just listed their home for sale, and their agent expressed the belief that the neighborhood crime wave may not need to be disclosed to buyers. He’s checking with his broker, just to be sure. Apparently, this is a gray area as it relates to the disclosure law, and I just wanted to get your thoughts on the matter. –Jeri

Dear Jeri,

The agent for the upcoming sale has a distorted perspective regarding real estate disclosure. He is apparently asking himself, “What do I legally have to disclose?” rather than simply disclosing every significant fact he knows. Living across the street from people who are at odds with the law affects the value and desirability of properties in the area, not to mention the safety and security of children and other residents. Whether the law specifically mandates such conditions for disclosure is irrelevant.

As a licensed professional, your neighbor’s agent should realize that the circumstances in question, namely criminal activity in the neighborhood, could be decisive to prospective buyers, and that failure to disclose such information could motivate some people to file a lawsuit against the agent, the broker and the sellers. In today’s litigious environment, failure to disclose every questionable aspect of a property is plainly foolish. In any environment, it is simply dishonest. Some people just don’t get it till it’s too late.

Dear Barry,

I’ll be traveling during the winter months and want to winterize my home. Some friends have recommended draining my water heater and turning off the gas. Others say this is not a good idea. What is your opinion? –Ron

Dear Ron,

It is generally not a good idea to turn off a water heater completely. Major temperature changes in a metal fixture can cause significant expansion and contraction of the components. If you allow your water heater to become cold, all of its constituent parts will shrink. When you relight the burner at a later date, re-expansion of the fixture could cause leaking at the fittings, and replacement of the unit might then be necessary. The recommended procedure when you leave home for an extended period is to turn water heater thermostat to the “vacation” setting. The pilot light will remain lit, maintaining a slightly warm water temperature within the unit until you return home.

If your home is heated with gas, it is also unwise to turn off the gas service when leaving home during winter. If the house temperature should drop below freezing while you are away, the water pipes could split open, causing major damage to the building and its contents. So be sure to leave the thermostat turned on at the lowest setting, usually between 50 and 60 degrees.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at


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