Most buyers, understandably, would want to know if a violent death occurred in the houses they are considering. And as it turns out, most states require sellers to divulge the fact that a suicide, murder or some other villainous act took place, even if it was years ago.
But what if someone died a more natural death in the residence -- say, by accident, or in his or her sleep?
Since it’s not considered a “material fact” that may impact the value of the property, only three states -- California, Alaska and South Dakota -- compel sellers to reveal such a demise. And California only requires such disclosures if the death occurred within the previous three years.
Still, it is interesting to note at Halloween time that 7 out of 10 people told a poll commissioned by Trulia a couple of years back that they would not want to live in a house where any kind of life-ending event took place. Would-be buyers are even more spooked by the idea of residing in places where the death was gory. And they’re especially fearful of houses that are supposedly haunted by a former resident. But for the most part, they don’t want anything to do with any place in which someone passed away.
Even though most sellers don’t feel the need to disclose this kind of information, most real estate agents know it is their duty to do so. Otherwise they might violate not only their code of ethics, but also the law.
While most agents do what’s right, some believe the rules have gone too far.
“What’s next?” questioned a Pennsylvania agent. “Are you going to disclose if anyone (passed gas), cut themselves or had a pet buried in the backyard? ... What if the person died on the front lawn and not in the house?” As far he’s concerned, all this amounts to too much information. “Buyers should focus on the condition of the house” rather then if someone died there, he said.
A Florida agent agreed. “I tend to think that unless there is blood on the walls, the homeowners and the home’s value shouldn’t be penalized for being the locale where the circle of life comes around and wraps up,” he said.
A discussion of this sort pops up almost annually at this time of year, when our thoughts turn to All Hallows Eve and house-hunting becomes a tad scarier. Sellers may be worried that the specter of specters will spook potential buyers, and buyers are concerned about sharing their new homes with unwanted paranormal residents.
I mean, have you seen “Beetlejuice,” the wonderful 1988 Tim Burton film starring Michael Keaton?
In its 2017 poll, Trulia found that 43 percent of respondents would be less likely to buy a home if they suspected something ghastly -- or ghostly -- had taken place on the premises. And an earlier Trulia Halloween-centric survey found that a crime of any kind would be likely to turn off would-be buyers, even in a house “that otherwise has everything” someone is looking for. (About 2,000 people were surveyed in both online studies, which were done for Trulia by Harris Poll.)
A house being located near a highway or trailer park are other big turnoffs -- more so than the death of a resident or the “demon numbers” 666 in the address. But the majority wouldn’t care if the place they loved was adjacent to a cemetery. Indeed, once such situated resident told me that, save for some high-school and college kids who occasionally found the graveyard an ideal place to party, his neighbors were extremely quiet.
Trulia also discovered that if a house was haunted, buyers would rather it be possessed by a vengeful ghost than a demon. And, apparently, they’d be willing to live with the antics of the poltergeist: Less than half would be willing to pay for an exorcism.
For what it’s worth, a rather chilling 2015 study by data analytics firm RealtyTrac found more than 22,000 vacant single-family houses nationwide that are owned by someone now deceased. That’s 1 in every 6,000 houses nationwide that very well could be haunted. And in more than 20 ZIP codes, the ratio is roughly 1 in every 175.
If you are one of the many who are concerned about this sort of thing, there’s an app for that -- or at least a website. Isn’t there always?
For $11.99, Diedinhouse.com will tell you whether there was a death in a house, whether it was because of an accident, natural causes, murder or suicide. The site also provides information about the deceased and the names of folks associated with the dearly departed. It will also report on any known drug activity or fires at the address, as well as sex-offender registry information.
On the other hand, HomeDisclosure.com, a site operated by realty analytics firm ATTOM Data Solutions, no longer provides information about in-home deaths. “The cost of maintaining that data was greater than the delivery,” a company spokesperson told me.