Imagine that you’ve found your dream home in the perfect neighborhood at the right price. You’re about to put an offer on it, but then you learn some disturbing news: the last owner died in the house.
The first question you’ll probably want to ask is how the death occurred. Brett Jennings, CEO of Real Estate Experts, noted that deaths of natural causes like heart attacks or old age aren’t usually such a big deal to buyers. However, if a suicide or a murder took place, it’s natural that buyers might think twice about living there.
Regardless of the cause of death, starting your new life in a place where someone else’s life ended might give you the creeps—and if it does, you’ll want to know how to find out about it.
Why does it matter if someone died in my house?
If you’re someone who believes in spirits and hauntings, learning about a death on your prospective new property will understandably give you pause. If you’re not, you might wonder—why does it matter who died in my house?
From a real estate standpoint, deaths in a home can impact the selling price and time on the market. In fact, some sources indicate that the value can decrease by up to 25% and the home can spend about 50% longer on the market than comparable homes where no deaths have occurred.
According to Jennings, certain cultures or religious groups may be more sensitive to inhabiting a property where death occurred (natural or not)—and if there’s a high population of individuals in a neighborhood with those beliefs, you may lose some of your buyer pool if you decide to sell the property.
This sensitivity is more widespread among the general population for so-called “murder houses.” While Jennings himself hasn’t listed a home where a murder occurred, he’s seen how difficult it can be to sell properties with a violent history. For example, he knew of a real estate agent in Santa Fe who recently struggled to sell a home where the former resident’s estranged partner shot and killed two people.
As Realtor.com notes, murders or suicides on a property are considered “stigmatizing” events—sometimes referred to as “emotional” or “psychological defects”—that can affect a home’s value, similar to structural damage. In the case of particularly gory deaths, there may even be some physical repercussions to the property itself. However, unless you ask, you might never know a death occurred in your home.
Jennings is based in California, which is one of only three states with mandatory disclosure laws about deaths on a property. State law requires sellers to acknowledge any deaths—including those by natural causes—that occurred on a property in the last three years on a form called a Transfer Disclosure Statement. For California agents, revealing a recent death to a prospective buyer is simply a matter of paperwork.
“It’s not something agents have to bring up as an awkward conversation,” said Jennings. “[It’s just], ‘Here’s the disclosures.’ It becomes rather procedural.”
Similarly, South Dakota and Alaska require sellers to disclose murders or suicides that happened within the past years.
Beyond that disclosure laws vary. Depending on where you live, a death on the property may not be considered a material fact, and even if it is, there may be a timeframe limit similar to those in California, South Dakota and Alaska.
In general, most states do not require the disclosures of natural deaths on a property. However, a seller or listing agent is often legally obligated to disclose such information if a buyer directly inquires, or else risk a lost sale or a lawsuit. You’ll want to research the laws in any state where you’re planning to buy or sell property.
How to find out if anyone died in your house
If you’re looking for a home, a real estate agent should be your go-to source if you’re curious about deaths in a home. They’re often underutilized, too: in Jennings’ experience, only about 10% of buyers will inquire about deaths on a property if it’s not listed in the seller’s disclosure statement.
There’s a caveat, though—as mentioned, agents are obligated to share this information if they’re aware of it, but a seller can also hide certain facts from their listing agent. That’s why it’s often wise for prospective homeowners to do their own research to find out whether anyone has died in their house.
One well-known and popular option is a website called DiedInHouse.com, which promises to reveal whether “anyone has died at any valid U.S. address” for $11.99 per search. Died In House notes its reports contain any available information on deaths (including cause of death), reported fire incidents, “meth activity,” registered sex offenders in the area, names of associated individuals and general property information for the address you search.
While Died in House may be a good resource, it may not tell you everything you need to know about a property. Here are a few things you can do to gain additional insights on whether someone died in your house:
Look up the property details
Property deeds are a matter of public record. A property search website can often tell you who owns a particular property and how long they’ve lived there. Armed with that information, you can plug those names and addresses into a search engine or a public records search tool to look for any associated death certificates and/or news stories about a crime or death.
Ask around the neighborhood
If a death occurred in a home, you can bet at least some neighbors saw and heard the emergency vehicles that took the body away. While you don’t want to go door-to-door asking about murders, you might naturally bring it up in conversation while asking your future neighbors about other happenings in the area.
Check out your town’s historical archives
Generations ago, before hospitals and hospice care facilities were widely accessible, most deaths occurred at home. Therefore, if you’re purchasing an older property, it’s likely that at least one or two people passed away there. Many towns will house historical archives of properties and their owners at their local library, so you may be able to do some digging by chatting with a librarian or historical society member.
How much it matters is ultimately up to you
If a death has occurred on a property you’re interested in, it’s important to find out the nature of that death. A violent murder or suicide in a home is likely to have a much bigger impact on the resale value than an older homeowner dying peacefully in their sleep.
Once you become aware of a death on your property, Jennings said choosing to move forward with the sale is a matter of your own personal beliefs and feelings.
“It’s your own call to make whether you feel comfortable with that,” Jennings said. “[If you’re concerned], you could hire an energy specialist to come in and clear the house.”
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