If you’re trying to sell a home that the former owner passed away in, it can be tough for agents to know what to do. Do they disclose the fact that someone died there and potentially scare off buyers? Or should they just keep their mouths shut? Is there even a legal requirement to say anything?
In fact, in most cases agents aren’t legally obliged to do so, so long as the death was a peaceful one, that is. “There’s no legal obligation in most states requiring that [sellers] disclose it,” said Jason Wells, a real estate professional and attorney with Wells Law Group in Phoenix, in an interview with Realtor.com.
Some states go even further, and do not require agents or sellers to disclose incidents such as murders, suicides or natural deaths in a property. They’re also not legally required to disclose any rumors of paranormal activity, according to real estate referral company HomeLight.
There are exceptions however. In California for example, it’s necessary to disclose any death within a property in the last three years, regardless of the cause. Other states including Alaska and South Dakota have similar rules. HomeLight offers a helpful interactive map for real estate agents that breaks down the disclosure laws for each state.
There are also rules in some states that require agents to inform buyers if a home is “stigmatized” in any way, but the definition of that term varies. For example, some states say that violent deaths such as murders and suicides stigmatize a property, while others do not. Cases such as these could certainty impact a property’s price tag, and so in the majority of states it’s required that agents disclose if a murder has occurred.
When disclosures aren’t made, real estate agents and the former owners run the risk of buyers learning of them after they move in, often from the neighbors. To avoid potentially unsettling surprises, Katie Walsh, a real estate pro at Keller Williams Legacy Once in Chandler, Ariz., advises her buyers to search for the address of the home, or visit Diedinhouse.com, a site that lets users purchase reports detailing whether a death has occurred at an address.
Also, sellers need to be up front. If a buyer asks whether a death has occurred in the home, home sellers and real estate professionals are legally required to tell them the truth.