People die in their homes all the time. Many pass from natural causes. But others go more violently -- a suicide, perhaps, or even a murder.
If that thought makes you skittish when shopping for a new home, there are a couple of spooky online tools to help you out find out if someone met their demise in a place you're considering. One is the "Death in Home" feature at HomeDisclosure.com; the other, DiedInHouse.com.
While real estate agents are often instructed to disclose when a death has occurred in a property, only three states -- Alaska, California and South Dakota -- require them to do so.
In California, sellers and their agents don't have to disclose the death if it happened more than three years ago. But if a would-be buyer asks about a death that occurred at any time, even long ago, the seller has to respond truthfully. In Alaska and South Dakota, only murders or suicides must be disclosed, and only if they happened within the past year.
Because things are less black-and-white in other states, many agents adopt a "don't ask, don't tell" attitude about the subject.
Of course, some buyers don't care. They find it silly to even consider such ghostly goings-on. But many others want nothing to do with these "ghastly" properties. And there are plenty of those properties, according to ATTOM Data Solutions, the parent company of HomeDisclosure. More than you might think.
More than 40,000 currently vacant single-family properties nationwide are owned by someone who is deceased, ATTOM reports.
In five Chicago-area ZIP codes, there are a total of 324 potentially haunted houses. But the prize goes to ZIP code 46407 in Lake County, Indiana, where one in every 41 houses could be occupied by the specter of the former owner. The kids should have a field day there this Halloween.
The Death in Home feature at HomeDisclosure "fits with our philosophy of providing as much information as possible about a property," says ATTOM Chief Economist Daren Blomquist, "particularly when that information may affect the value in the buyer's eyes."
The information was something the realty data company's customers had been asking for, according to Blomquist. But there has been some pushback from agents who think it's something would-be buyers don't really need to know about. "What's next?" asked an agent on a real estate website. "(Asking) 'Did someone fart in the house?'"
DiedinHouse was created by Roy Condrey, who was inspired when one of his tenants texted him in the middle of the night to ask if he knew his house was haunted.
Condrey wasn't able to find any proof one way or the other that the house had been the site of any kind of fatality. But the South Carolina software designer did learn that a death in a house is not regarded as a "material defect" in most places, and therefore need not be disclosed. His search also revealed dozens of others asking the same question about their houses, or the ones they were thinking about buying.
He also found many cases in which people who bought places in which someone had died were now uncomfortable with the idea. And he was less than thrilled with the advice he found about trying to determine such things before committing to a 30-year mortgage: Most advice consisted of "ask the agent, seller, neighbors and/or local government agencies." That didn't cut it for Condrey.
"The process is easier said then done, not to mention very time-consuming," he said. So he created a site that gathers data from more than 130 million police records, news reports and death certificates, among other sources.
HomeDisclosure's Death in Home report costs $9.99 --it's the only part of the site's report that has a fee, due to the added expense necessary to collect the data. At DiedInHouse, one search runs $11.99.