Should You Disclose a Death in Your House for Sale?

Homebuyers today, with access to so much information online, want to know as much as they can about a home’s history before signing a contract. It’s typical to disclose leaks and other known issues. But should you disclose a death in your house, or a crime that was committed? Here’s what you need to know.

Disclose any death that occurred on the property

If there was a death on the property, you should air on the side of caution by disclosing it at the time of listing. For obvious reasons, homes where a natural death occurred have less of a stigma than homes where there was a murder or suicide. In California, Civil Code Section 1710.2 requires sellers to disclose knowledge of any death within the past three years. But absent a law, buyers still have access to tons of information. If a seller chooses not to disclose, it will likely come back to bite them, either in the form of a lawsuit after the fact or by losing a buyer during escrow.

Disclose any known criminal activity

Previous criminal activity can impact the home’s value, particularly if it was a burglary or theft. From the theft of a bicycle to illegal drug activity or even a murder, sellers should disclose what they know. In some states, disclosure statements require that you share knowledge of criminal activity not just on your property, but in the neighborhood.

Seller tips

Bring the home to the market in its best possible light. Example: If an elderly person died peacefully in the home, do some work to the home so buyers aren’t reminded of the death. A solid cleaning, painting and finishing of the floors or replacing the carpet will give the home a fresh look and feel. Even though buyers will learn of the death, they shouldn’t be reminded of it. Also, first impressions are lasting impressions. A buyer may be so impressed with the location and condition that, when they learn of the death, it’s not an issue.

Buyer tips 

In addition to reviewing building and property tax records, be on the lookout for the “unknown.” Start by Googling the address. You might be surprised by what you find. Past police reports, neighborhood association meeting minutes, local blogs and news stories tend to live forever oonline.

Visit the property at different times of day. Ask neighbors what they know about the home’s history. Whether or not you have reason to believe the home had a past, it’s imperative that you research as much as you can.

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