As we close out the disclosure series, I’ll circle back around to the Amityville Horror example I started last week. Though extreme, thanks to decades of films and documentaries of the supernatural, deaths in a home tops the list of one of the seven (7) common real estate disclosures. So much so that deaths (moreso of the violent nature including but not limited to burial sites, murder, suicide, etc) hold its own entry on the Sellers Property Disclosure Form. We’ve discussed at great length this year the physical damage a house may endure through abuse, neglect, faulty repairs, etc. We’re now shifting gears to the ‘psychological damage’ of a house. In some cases, the psychological damage is so great—such as after a violent or highly publicized murder or suicide, or widespread reports of haunting—that the house is considered “stigmatized” and therefore less valuable. In most states, the owner would indeed be expected to disclose a defect causing the house to be stigmatized, so that buyers could adjust their expectations and purchase price accordingly.
However, be cautious of blanketing the disclosures around any and all deaths in a home. There are two (2) occurrences around death in a home to consider. First, according to injuryfacts.nsc.org, the number of preventable deaths in the home increased 21.1% in 2020. The rate of preventable injury-related deaths occurring in or around the home has increased 272% since 1999. This increase in deaths is largely driven by increases in unintentional poisonings and falls. Not all deaths are violent in nature. Second, keep in mind a peaceful death is another matter. Let’s not forget that a century or so ago, dying at home was the norm—few people went to hospitals. If every house where someone had died a natural death became stigmatized, there would be a lot fewer saleable houses in the United States. Sure, a few people might be sufficiently put off to look elsewhere, but plenty of buyers see the home for what it is—an empty structure, waiting for them to bring new energy into it. So how long are you potentially liable if a problem is raised by the new owner of your home? This would normally fall under the Misrepresentation Act of 1967, and the liability period will vary depending on the exact circumstances. Normally a buyer would have six years in which to bring a claim against you, although in certain situations it could be three years from when the buyer becomes aware of a problem. The easiest way to ensure that you’re not liable if any existing problems are later discovered is to be upfront and honest about them. While it may be tempting to bend the truth slightly if you’re worried it could lower the offer on your house, the risk is that you could be faced with a much higher bill when a case goes to court.
Just a quick update on the Amityville House. The current owner who purchased it in June of 1997 has not reported any ‘haunted’ or paranormal occurrences. The hauntings and/or paranormal activities reduced in number and severity until they were not existent.
Until next week, love where you live. And if you don’t … contact your local REALTOR®.
Brian Haufe, 2022 MBOR President