We’ve all seen the movies where an average family’s new dream home becomes a nightmare as they discover it’s haunted by restless spirits. That’s just movie magic, right? But whether or not you believe in ghosts, you’d probably want to know if someone had passed away in the home you’re purchasing. It’s actually a really common question among buyers. If you’re selling your home, you may be wondering “Do you have to disclose death in a house?” It’s crucial for both the seller and their representing agent to recognize their responsibilities regarding disclosure of death on the premises. So, let’s exorcize the misconceptions and let the power of truth compel you!
Under What Circumstances Do You Have to Disclose a Death in a House?
In California, any material facts related to the value and desirability of a home must be clearly communicated. So, do you have to disclose a death in a house? Yes, but there are certain conditions. A death must be disclosed if:
- The death occurred on the property.
- The deceased was an occupant of the property.
- The death occurred within the last three years.
If you’re selling a property that is the site of such a tragedy, it’s your responsibility to be forthright and honest with this information. The same goes for an agent representing a seller. As an agent, you must make it your mission to get this information from the seller.
The Proper Method of Disclosure
If you need to disclose a death, you’re probably wondering about the proper method of disclosure. The Seller Property Questionnaire (SPQ) is one of the forms that specifically asks for disclosure of death. To complete this form, the seller must clarify both the occurrence and manner of death.
It’s vital that they maintain the utmost honesty and transparency when completing the SPQ. This can obviously be a sensitive topic. Therefore, an agent should use their utmost compassion and support when seeking this crucial information.
The One Exception to the Rule
According to the California Association of Realtors (CAR) and the California Department of Real Estate (DRE), there is one exception to the death disclosure. If the deceased passed away as a result of HIV or AIDS, the nature of death does not need to be disclosed. The reasons are nuanced, but it basically boils down to a form of discrimination against those suffering from AIDS or HIV. While the death is still required to be disclosed, you are not required to clarify a cause of death in this case.
Looking Beyond the Three-Year Rule
While there is a three year limit on death disclosures, both listing and selling agents are required to answer questions regarding death on a premises if asked about it directly. Normally, if the death occurred longer than three years prior, the agent and/or seller does not need to volunteer the information.
However, if the home was the site of a particularly infamous tragedy, it may be in your best interest to voluntarily disclose this information. This is because such notoriety can impact a home’s value.
When in Doubt: Over-Disclose
It may seem counterintuitive in this situation, but over-disclosing is preferable to under-disclosing. Over-disclosing doesn’t just protect an agent. It protects their client. And that is the ultimate responsibility of an honorable agent.
Do you have to disclose death in a house? In most cases, yes. Ultimately, disclosing death is part of life for a real estate agent. And if you don’t disclose something you should, it will certainly come back to haunt you!
Jenny Manukyan is the Transaction Manager here at JohnHart Real Estate, as well as an agent herself. Being the supervisor and "linchpin" in our short sale operations, has endowed Jenny with invaluable knowledge; and here on the JohnHart Gazette she hopes to share that with you all!