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Helping Buyers find their
'Home Safe Home'

Sex predator registry weighing in on home purchases

1/2/05
By MARIA ZATE
NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER

When real estate agent Kristiann Wightman first heard about the new Megan's Law information available on the Internet, she thought it would be a useful research tool for clients buying a home.

But she has since learned that the Web site, which provides specific addresses for many sexual offenders, can be a double-edged sword.

"It never crossed my mind that the information on it would impact one of my deals," she said.

Ms. Wightman had helped a Santa Barbara couple find what they believed was the perfect home to raise their two small children. The couple opened an escrow and began doing their "due diligence," or research to find out as much as they could about the neighborhood, including searching the Megan's Law Web site.

That's when they discovered that a sexual offender on the registry was living in the condominium complex where their dream home was located. After combing through court documents to get details on the offender's felony case involving a minor, the couple decided to back out of the purchase.

"Knowing that such a person would live within sight of my own home is a terrible stress to live with," said the Buyer, who asked that his name not be used because he feared for his family's safety.

Although Ms. Wightman said she never imagined a sex offender would be renting in that area, she acknowledged that the person had a right to live where he wanted.

"Sex offenders still have rights, too. And we can't forget that," she added.

Ms. Wightman's experience illustrates the complexities of balancing the public's right to know about sexual predators with the rights of all individuals, regardless of past history, to live peaceful lives. The information now readily available can have an effect on home sales depending on a Buyer's circumstances.

The information isn't infallible. The site itself warns that "offender locations are approximate," and much of what appears assumes the offender has kept the information up to date and that local law enforcement agencies posted new information and got rid of the old as it came in -- all of which are large assumptions. California Attorney General Bill Locker has said about 20 percent of the registry's information is inaccurate.

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