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Do I Have to Disclose a Death in My Home When Selling?

By Laura Agadoni · Oct 26, 2016 · Mortgage

Do I Have to Disclose a Death in My Home When Selling?

Image courtesy of Flickr, Clare Black

Whether home sellers need to disclose a death on the property and the kind, a peaceful death from natural causes or a gruesome or accidental one, depends on the state.

It's unpleasant but true: people die in homes all the time. In fact, people are dying at home instead of in a hospital or nursing home more frequently these days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And that can be a good thing. It's less stressful for many people to die at home instead of an institution. But there are other types of home deaths to consider, gruesome deaths involving murder or fatal accidents, suicides, and drug overdoses. And here are some questions to consider:

1. If there is a death in a home, no matter what kind, does a home seller need to disclose that fact to potential homebuyers?

2. Do homebuyers even care if a death occurred in the home?

Disclosing a death

Whether home sellers need to disclose a death on the property and the kind, a peaceful death from natural causes or a gruesome or accidental one, depends on the state.

Some states, such as California, South Dakota, and Alaska, require sellers to disclose this information, but most states don't. For example, in California, sellers must disclose to buyers whether there was any type of death in the home within the past three years. But in South Dakota and Arizona, the only types of deaths that must be disclosed are murders and suicides that happened within the past year. State laws for real estate can change, however, so discuss with your real estate agent what the disclosure law is for your state.

Keep in mind that no matter what your state law is regarding disclosing a death, if a buyer specifically asks you whether there was a death in the home, you need to answer the question truthfully.

Do buyers care?

Some buyers care whether there was a death in the home, particularly if the death happened from anything other than natural causes, such as a murder or suicide. There's a name for houses that have had such an occurrence: stigmatized. ''A home that is stigmatized definitely affects the value, and often whether or not it can actually be sold at all,'' says Kelly Jo Choate, a Michigan real estate agent. But not all buyers care. ''I recently showed a rural property to a family,'' says Choate. ''Reportedly, a man had committed suicide in the home, and while I was creeped out, [the buyers] were completely unfazed.''

People moved into the Amityville Horror House (for sale again)

Here's some trivia you might find interesting: People have been living in the Amityville Horror house, points out Choate. In case you don't remember or have never heard the story, a mass murder occurred in 1974 in this now-famous (and super creepy) home. A 23-year old shot and killed his parents and four of his five siblings.

The first family to buy this house after the murders claimed the house was haunted, complete with red-eyed pigs staring at them, slime and blood oozing from walls, and ghosts galore. They fled, but three other families after that couldn't wait to call this oceanfront house in Long Island, NY, home. The Amityville home is again, at the time of this writing, for sale. It was listed this most recent time in early summer. ''Mind you, it is still for sale [in October], so whether its past is a negative or positive remains to be seen.''

Buyers Are Divided

Some buyers run for the hills when they find out a violent death happened on the property, some don't care, and others use this information as a bargaining tool, offering less than asking price because of the unfortunate circumstances. ''My seller's wife had overdosed on prescription pills in the bathroom of their master bedroom,'' says Tracey Hampson, a California real estate agent. ''It took three months to sell in a one-month market.'' Her buyer, attributing the lack of offers to the death, had the home blessed by his pastor.

Some buyers passed on this home for religious reasons, says Hampson. ''Others [weren't interested] just because it was creepy to them.'' And Hampson's own take: ''To be honest, there is no way I would purchase a home where a death had occurred, natural or not.''

How do you feel about buying a home where a death occurred?

If it's important to you whether a person recently died in a home you're thinking about buying, ask the seller. Whether you're in a state where sellers must disclose this information or whether you aren't, you should get a straight answer from the seller if you come right out and ask.

Or, if you feel funny about asking, you can look up this information yourself. Just go to DiedInHouse.com to get a report that lets you know whether anyone died at the address in question.


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