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How to Find Out If Someone Died In the House You're Buying

Violent or unnatural deaths in a home can cause its value to plummet because of the stigma associated with it. Here are some ways to find out if someone has died in a house you’re thinking about buying and what you can do about it.
Violent or unnatural deaths in a home can cause its value to plummet because of the stigma associated with it. Here are some ways to find out if someone has died in a house you’re thinking about buying and what you can do about it.

Suicide. Murder. Death. Sure, you may enjoy watching Lieutenant Horatio Caine pick apart crime scenes on CSI: Miami, but these aren’t words you want to think about when imagining relaxing in your dream home. However, it's likely one or more of these has occurred in at least one home you’ve looked at on your hunt for a new house.

It is estimated that over four million deaths have occurred in homes in the U.S., which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. In the past, people used to die in their homes, but with home health care and hospice becoming more prevalent, people are returning to that peaceful way of going out.

Why It Matters

While it may not matter much whether Great Aunt Cathy passed away peacefully in her bedroom at 90, an unnatural death may be a different story for both a buyer and a seller. According to Randall Bell, a real estate broker who specializes in real estate damage valuation, a murder or suicide in a home can cause it to sell for 10% to 25% less. Plus, (not to go all CSI on you, but…) blood, fluids, or other gross stuff can cause harmful health issues if not taken care of by a certified specialist.

Violent deaths that are highly publicized create another issue — the stigma that comes along with it. You may not want to buy a home knowing you could experience visitors drive by long after you’ve purchased it. Or, it may creep you out knowing the exact gory details from newspaper articles about the place that should be your oasis. If you’re a believer in ghosts and spirits, you may also worry about a house being haunted after a gruesome death or be interested in getting rid of the negative energies that lie there.

Seller Disclosure Form

Depending on the state where you’re buying a home, any murder or suicide deaths that have happened there are likely required to be designated on the disclosure form you receive from the seller. But, each state varies on what is required by the seller.

Some states only require unnatural deaths be disclosed if it has occurred in the recent past, like the past five years. Three states — California, Alaska, and South Dakota — require disclosure of any death, regardless of cause. However, in California, this only includes those that have occurred in the past three years. While a Disclosure Form can be helpful, it doesn’t always provide all the information.

Ask the Seller or Their Agent

You can always just ask the seller or the listing agent if they’re aware of any deaths and they may tell you out of plain moral obligation. In some states, sellers must disclose deaths if the buyer asks about them, but aren’t required to list them on a disclosure form. Keep in mind that sellers may also refrain from answering if there’s no state requirement they do so. Or, they may not have much historical knowledge of the home.

Title History

If you’re willing to do some digging, you can come up with some history on your own. Reach out to the city or county in which the home resides and ask for the home’s title information. This will give you a record of everyone who has ever resided in the home. Then, you can search online or visit your local government offices to obtain death certificates for each person, which will list where he or she died.

There’s a Site For That

If you’re willing to pay $11.99, you can get this history and more (including fun info like meth lab records!) at a site called DiedInHouse.com. Your report will tell you everything that has occurred at the address, including how a death occurred, fire-related incidents, and sex offender registry information. Other similar sites can be found by searching online.

What To Do About Death

So, you’ve found out about a violent murder that occurred in a home you’re thinking about purchasing. Now what? First, decide if you still want to buy. You may be someone who can’t sleep at night knowing someone has died in that spot. Or maybe it doesn’t bother you at all and adds character to the home.

If you’re still interested in the house, work with an experienced, local real estate agent to help you determine what to do next. You may justify a lower offering price and your agent can help you figure out what that price may depend on the specifics of the death and how public of an event it was.

Whether you’re buying a home that has a sordid past or one with a clean history (that you know of), a Clever Partner Agent can help you find the perfect home to fit your needs. If someone has died in the home, they can use their expertise in negotiating to get you a better price.

Besides helping you uncover additional cost-savings opportunities, Partner Agents also offer on-demand showings — sometimes in less than an hour — so you know you won’t miss out on your dream home, whether or not it’s haunted. Plus, you’re eligible for a $1,000 buyer’s rebate on any home you purchase for more than $150,000 (in 40 states).

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Reuven Shechter

Reuven Shechter is the Outreach Coordinator at Clever Real Estate, the free online service that connects you with top real estate agents to help save on commission. He spreads the word about Clever, disseminating studies to journalists and developing relationships with media outlets. Reuven is passionate about investing in real estate and creating lasting success for families. His writing has been featured in Max Real Estate Exposure, Leverage Marketing, and more.

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