Local Customs

Real Estate is a profession regulated and controlled by each individual state, not by the federal government. So, it’s inevitable that there will be variance from state to state in the way the business of real estate is practiced. Additionally, local customs in real estate can vary by region … by state … even from city to city. Let’s look at some of the ways that the custom and practice of real estate in Southeastern Wisconsin may differ from what you’re familiar with.

Use of Attorneys. Wisconsin is unique among the states in that a real estate license is also a limited license to practice law. Real estate salespeople in Wisconsin have the legal right (with attendant responsibilities) to fill out state-approved forms in the course of a real estate transaction. Consequently, although we always encourage use of an attorney if you’re more comfortable that way, you’ll find that the majority of real estate transactions in our area close without involving attorneys.

What Stays With the House. Wisconsin law states that the only items that automatically transfer with real property are “fixtures,” defined as items so permanently affixed to the property as to become part of it. In practice, this is usually described as, “If you need a tool to take it with you, don’t!” (unless, of course, as agreed in the Contract of Sale) Conversely, most items that can be picked up and carried away, are. Don’t be surprised when a seller here plans to take the kitchen appliances along to the new house — it’s common here. A good rule of thumb is, if you have any doubt at all about what stays with the house or doesn’t, be sure it’s all spelled out in your Offer to Purchase.

Occupancy. In many parts of the country, occupancy is customarily given at closing: The deed, money, and all related papers change hands, the keys are turned over, and the buyer moves in immediately. However, it’s more customary here for a seller to request the right to rent the property back for a short period (usually a few days to a week) after closing to move out then. The custom is based on the theory of “what if I move out and then the sale doesn’t close for some reason.” Additionally, many sellers need the proceeds from the sale to close on the next residence, and can’t begin moving until all the closings have occurred.

Agency Disclosure, Buyer Brokerage and Multiple Representation (Dual Agency). When Wisconsin’s agency laws were revised a few years ago, the growing practice of Buyer Brokerage was addressed along with the rights and responsibilities of real estate agents in general. You’ll discover that in our area, Buyer Brokerage is nowhere near as prevalent as it is in many other area of the country. Although Buyer Agency is increasing, the majority of transactions today are still of the traditional seller sub-agent type.

At the same time, all real estate agents in Wisconsin are held to strict standards and responsibilities of honesty, fairness, and good faith to all parties in the transaction, and to a high level of disclosure. Very early in your dealings with any real estate agent, whether Seller’s or Buyer’s agent, expect to engage in a discussion of Wisconsin agency law.

These strict legal standards of responsibility to all parties are what helped those drafting the new agency laws agree to allow Multiple Representation, where a real estate broker, under very strict rules of disclosure and mutual consent, may represent both buyer and seller in the same transaction. See Wisconsin Agency Law for a further discussion of this issue.