Do sellers of real estate have a duty to warn potential buyers about murders or suicides that occurred at the property they are trying to sell? The answer in most states, somewhat surprisingly, is no. As MSNBC reported in a recent article, “3 BR, hot tub, 3 murders: How homicide homes hold their secrets,” only two states – Alaska and South Dakota – require that sellers’ agents reveal whether a homicide or suicide occurred in the property within the previous 12 months. According to the article, five other states – Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Oklahoma – require that agents “truthfully answer the question” if a prospective buyer asks about “past bloodshed.” The article further reports on a study, which showed that so-called stigmatized homes languish for longer on the market and ultimately sell for less if their macabre history is revealed, either by sellers or through the grapevine.
Finally, lest you think potential buyers are just being overly paranoid, consider the tragic ending to the story of the man profiled in the MSNBC piece:
Days after closing on his dream home – a brick colonial near the Washington, D.C., school he was toiling to save – principal Brian Betts learned of his property’s ghastly past.
Inside the house, 11 months earlier, an intruder had shot and killed a 9-year-old girl and her father. Horrified, Betts demanded the transaction be rescinded. When that effort failed, he invited two ministers to pray over his new place. Then Betts tried to paint over the grim history, refinishing the woodwork and refurbishing the kitchen.
Seven years later, in April 2010, a robber shot and killed Betts in his bedroom.