Laurel Abbott

In the early 1970s, the City of Santa Barbara started issuing a Buyer’s Information Report at the time of sale to determine if there were any violations or permit issues. This report cost $25 and was for informational purposes only.

Fast forward 40 years, and we now have a Zoning Information Report inspection costing almost $500 for a report that often has inaccuracies and acts as an enforcement tool of permit and building issues at the time of sale.

As Realtors, we want our buyers to be as informed about the property they are buying as is humanly possible. We order multiple reports, issue dozens of disclosures and try to provide the best information available.

For the past decade, the city ZIRs have become unreliable. In an increasingly common scenario, our buyers rely on the information provided by the city, then when they go to sell the property, a new report reveals flaws that were not discovered in the report they were provided when they purchased. To add insult to injury, the city then places “enforcement cases” on these homes often delaying or derailing the sale, and in some cases, altering property values.

Since June 2009, the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors has been working with the city staff exploring many different scenarios that could be a remedy to some of the issues. We proposed “grandfathering” items that have been on the property for decades or had been approved in earlier reports. We also brought forward the idea of privatization of the report process with professionals who have a greater stake in accuracy.

Unfortunately, although we have had great rapport with the city staff and we do appreciate the changes they did make, such as emailing out the reports and allowing for appeals to incorrect ZIRs, everyone acknowledges that ZIRs have become problematic. We are unable to “fix” the problem with the current process.

Th SBAOR is getting a date and will be going to the City Council to request that these reports become optional. With this change, if buyers want one of these reports, they can get one. If they want to hire a professional permit planner to review the file and provide a remedy for any issues, they can go that route.

We are living in a different time than the ‘70s. All the files for properties in the city are online for individuals to do their own homework.

We need to hear from the public about their experiences with ZIRs. Please send us any stories of your experience with these reports. We have mostly collected what we refer to as “ZIR nightmares” from an outraged public, but if you have a good story, we’d like to hear that, too.

Contact your Realtor or Krista Pleiser at the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors. Stay tuned for our City Council date so your voice can be heard.

Laurel Abbott is a real estate agent with Prudential California Realty and president of the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors. Contact her at or 805.879.8050. The opinions expressed are her own.