Wondering if you have to disclose a death that previously occurred in your house? Some buyers may prefer not to think about this unpleasant subject, but others may insist on finding out what major life — and end-of-life — events that unraveled inside a prospective home.
Most sellers know they must disclose physical defects, like a faulty foundation or mold infestation, but what rules exist about disclosing a death? Let's find out.
What is a Disclosure?
Disclosure is a legal principle that requires home sellers to divulge known property issues and defects to potential buyers. Most states require home sellers to reveal major defects about a home to potential buyers, such as a leaky roof, broken appliances, or cracked foundation. These are considered “material facts” that must be disclosed to a buyer before the deal is closed. And in some states, those real estate disclosure laws include a death in your home.
Prospective sellers often struggle with the balancing act of designing an attractive, high-value property listing, alongside meeting their legal disclosure requirements. These requirements are often location dependent, and sellers should consult state regulations for specific disclosure exceptions and obligations.
What Do You Need to Disclose to the Buyer?
It’s important for home sellers to know that information on any violence, murders, or suicides committed on a property is a required disclosure in some state areas. However, the requirement for disclosure depends on the time that has passed since a murder or death.
If you have experienced a haunting event in your home, you may be required to disclose this information to potential buyers. State regulations on this topic vary, but most jurisdictions mandate that sellers disclose any paranormal phenomena that may leave the property stigmatized.
When Do Sellers Have to Disclose a Death In the House?
In most cases, if someone has passed away peacefully in a house, there’s no legal obligation in most states requiring that sellers disclose it. However, if you live in California, South Dakota, or Alaska, there are exceptions to the rule.
In California, for example, any death on a property, whether peaceful or otherwise, needs to be disclosed if it occurred within the last three years. The seller must also disclose any known death in the home if the buyer asks. So, if you live in one of these three states, it may be a good idea to check with your state's housing authority first.
Remember, even if you’re not legally mandated to disclose an issue, concealing known problems with your property is ethically dubious. Non-disclosure can leave you vulnerable to lawsuits from deceived and disgruntled buyers.
Disclosing Violent Deaths
Violent deaths that occur in a home are a different story. A murder or suicide — especially one that's publicized — is considered an event that could stigmatize the property. Like physical damage (such as water damage and lead paint), this is seen as something that can affect a home's value.
If it’s a violent death, it becomes a marked property that people don’t necessarily want to become associated with. The thought of coming home from work and relaxing in the same room as a past murder scene may not be appeal to potential buyers — and they have every right to know this information beforehand.
Therefore, sellers in most states are required to disclose events like a murder on the property. Each state has different requirements for disclosure. In Texas, for example, deaths from natural causes, suicides, or accidents unrelated to the property do not have to be disclosed.
A seller is required to disclose deaths related to the condition of the property or violent crimes. For instance, if a previous occupant’s child drowned in the swimming pool because it didn’t have the proper safety fence, the seller would need to disclose the death, even after remedying the safety issue by installing a proper pool enclosure.
When Can You Avoid Disclosing a Death in the House?
There are circumstances where sellers do not have to disclose a death on the property. In fact there are no states in which there is an obligation to disclose the death of a person who has deceased under natural conditions. However, some states impose a duty on a stigmatized home or apartment in which there has been a suicide or murder. Some states even impose an affirmative duty on a seller, if they have knowledge that their real estate is being haunted by the dead.
Georgia, for example, does not require the disclosure of homicide or suicide. Even when disclosure isn’t required, play it safe, and preemptively give the buyer notice of a death on the property.
And if a seller is concerned about liability, the best advice is to disclose everything upfront, even if it is not required by law — better safe than sorry in these cases. It’s no doubt that buyers will always hear about things from the neighbors, and the surprise could cause them to back out of a purchase contract, or wonder what else the seller is not filling them in on.
Do Buyers Really Want to Know?
Some buyers may have concerns or superstitions about purchasing a home in which someone has died, so it’s important to know if your state requires sellers to disclose a previous death in the home.
If a buyer is concerned about it, they may come right out and ask before making an offer. But if you’re selling a home in which a death has occurred, it’s best to disclose that information upfront. You don’t want to get all the way through the escrow process to find out that the buyer has concerns about it. And if you don’t disclose it, the buyer may take legal action if he or she finds out later. As always, the best motto is to do the right thing.
Clever Partner Agents are experienced and know the disclosure laws in your state like the back of their hand. They can ensure all the bases are covered when selling your home. They can also market a home to ensure you still get top dollar — even if someone died on your property.