Baton Rougeans are increasingly going to great lengths to keep their high-end home buys out of the public record
Though it was listed for $2.95 million, the sale of this 8,300-square-foot home at 19506 Perkins Road East was recorded at the East Baton Rouge Clerk of Court’s Office for $100 “and other valuable considerations. Photography by Don Kadair
When Stephen and Dee Keller put their nearly 8,300-square-foot Perkins Road East home on the market in December 2015, they listed it for $2.95 million. Four months later, they sold the property—a newly renovated plantation-style home that sits on six sprawling acres—to Kevin and Monica Courville for a sale price that was recorded with the East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court as $100 “and other valuable considerations.”
Whatever the real sale price, the deal would almost certainly have ranked among the top home sales of 2016 in East Baton Rouge Parish. But no one will ever know for sure. Real estate agent Quita Cutrer, who brokered the transaction, was forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement at the request of the buyer. Stephen Keller says he was too.
The actual sale price, meanwhile—the amount of those other valuable considerations—is recorded as a counter letter to the act of sale and is filed away in an attorney’s office somewhere, far from the prying eyes of the public.
It’s perfectly legal, according to local real estate attorneys, who say Louisiana law does not affirmatively state that an accurate sale price must be listed in publicly recorded sale documents.
Most buyers and sellers do include the sale price, however, as a protection against a peculiar clause in the civil code called lesion beyond moiety. It’s a French term that basically means if a property is sold for less than half of its market value at the time of the sale, the seller has up to one year to sue to rescind the sale.
“As a way to guard against that, people will do a counter letter or an affidavit of true consideration that states the actual sale price,” says attorney Randy Roussel, a partner with Phelps Dunbar. “That way, you have a document somewhere if for any reason you need to prove adequate consideration to defeat a lesion claim.”
Not many residential buyers or sellers go to such lengths to keep their deals private. Closing attorney Stephen McCollister says he “hears a lot of people talking about it,” but few actually go to the trouble to do it.
Agents who broker high-end real estate transactions, however, say it’s happening with more frequency. That’s creating real headaches for them and for appraisers, who rely on “comps”—or the sale prices of comparable, nearby properties—to determine value.
“It’s very helpful if they include the sale price because that’s how we know what things are selling for,” says real estate broker Ann Mullins of C.J. Brown Realtors. “Fortunately, we kind of know what’s going on so we usually have an idea of what a particular home sold for even if the sale price isn’t listed somewhere.”
Cutrer believes the practice will continue. She had more deals of $1 million or more last year that didn’t include the actual sale price in the public record than ever before.
“People are doing whatever they can to keep their business private,” she says.