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Would You Buy Lizzie Borden’s House?

It’s a rhetorical question since the house isn’t up for sale (hope I didn’t get your hopes up with that one). Today’s weird blog is about the value of real estate after a murder or suicide has been committed inside the residence. In Ontario, Canada, there is no law that states the seller has the legal obligation to disclose whether a murder has taken place inside the home before allowing the buyer to make an offer, or a purchase. However, if a real estate agent is unaware of a property’s stigma – be it murder, suicide, a marijuana grow-op, meth lab, sex scandal, or even hauntings (ridiculous), s/he has no obligation to disclose (obviously). Yet headlines worldwide have demonstrated that not offering disclosure is a seriously risky move, since buyers have successfully sued sellers to renege on the contract and have all monies invested in the sale returned to them. Personally, I think that’s fair.

Suicide doesn’t sound as critical. But consider this story from a neighbor after you’ve purchased a home: “they found the son hanging in the basement from a rafter…” And you use that basement now. Creepy. Would that make you jump at shadows now and then? Worse, a house where a murder or a suicide has taken place might carry a stigma with it and neighbors might either take it upon themselves to continually tell you about the suicide or keep a wary watch on you and your comings and goings. Consider the Amityville Horror House. Most of us know the story about the young man who shot all of his family, including his younger siblings, in their sleep then calmly went to work at his grandfather’s car dealership. There was even a movie called The Amityville Horror and later, a documentary. Yet, someone lives there. Yeesh. No thanks.

Ontario real estate agents are required by their regulator, the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO), to “discover and verify the pertinent facts relating to the property and the transaction.” RECO interprets its rules to mean that facts regarding stigmatized properties have to be disclosed so as to ensure a “fair and honest” transaction. Fair and honest? You’re dealing with real estate agents here. You want fair and honest? Go talk to a used car salesman – you’re more likely to find integrity on a used car lot.

Haunted Houses
enhanced-buzz-29505-1380833588-0There are a few very good reasons not to buy a haunted house:

  1. people love them! If you don’t mind psychic investigator wannabes knocking on your door at all hours, seven days a week, then go ahead and move on in. You’ll get tourists asking for pictures of your home and even tours. I’d say it’s not worth the hassle. Perhaps post a sign on the front gate to keep them away: TREPASSERS WILL BE BURIED ALIVE.
  2. you might get paranoid and think you smell, see and hear things that truly aren’t happening.
  3. One family discovered their house had once been a funeral home! “We found a lot of stuff that had been left behind. There were coffin pillows, a [coffin trolley], pictures of the deceased, toe tags, a blood tank and a body lift that went up into our bedroom.” Nice.

Murder Most Foul

This one begs the question of whether or not a house is haunted. People believe in that nonsense. Once you’re dead, why would you stick around? To avenge your death? That’s why we have a court system. I wouldn’t want to inhabit such a house in case I happened upon a chance bloodstain somewhere that had been overlooked. Gross.

Suicide

Nasty yes, but really not something I would want to know about. In fact, I don’t believe it’s the neighbours’ business either. Same with a natural death. People die. Whatever. In May, 2003, Sylvie Knight bought a home from Marcel Dionne in Saint-Constant, Quebec, Canada for $122,000. ($122,00? That’s a great price. Must google real estate in Saint-Constant – but not anything belonging to Sylvie Knight). Dionne did not inform her that his son committed suicide in the basement 10 years earlier. Knight sued, claiming that this should have been disclosed and she would not have bought the home if she had known that. In a 2006 decision, Judge Gabriel de Pokomandy of the Court of Quebec Civil Division ruled against the buyer. His statement ran thus:

“A death, suicide or even a murder in a house cannot be considered something the seller is obliged to disclose, just as there is no obligation to disclose domestic violence, trespass, births, marriages, baptisms, or other life events, whether happy or sad, that may have occurred there, unless there have been questions raised about these facts.”

Natural Death
Here’s one I didn’t see coming. Some people prefer to sprinkle their dead spouse’s ashes in the backyard. Seriously. Maybe it helps the brussels sprouts to flourish or something. The best thing a buyer can do if s/he is concerned about that sort of morbidity is to insist that a clause be written into the contract about disclosure about any type of death, sprinkling of ashes on the property, etc., prior to the sale of the house. Then go and check with the neighbors about the seller’s personal business. You’re bound to find out something juicy.

Miscellaneous

2m8BXUfrid7xtu7mb523G8zj_500Hooray for Hollywood: Let’s say you are interested in buying a property that Hollywood directors have used to film parts of movies. This too carries a stigma, albeit a more positive one. Again you might subject yourself to curious types who want to photograph the house and who have the audacity to ask for a peek inside.

Murder/suicide stigma: Some jurisdictions in the United States require property sellers to reveal a murder or suicide that has occurred on the premises. For California state law this is only applicable if the event occurred within the previous three years.

Contagious Disease: To protect sellers from lawsuits, Florida state law does not require any notification before selling a house to a buyer for any of the following: (see FL statute 689.25: “Failure to disclose homicide, suicide, deaths, or diagnosis of HIV or AIDS infection in an occupant of real property”).

Things work quite differently in different part of America and Europe.

Public stigma : when the stigma is known to a wide selection of the population and any reasonable person can be expected to know of it, disclosure is mandatory. An example is the home of the Menendez brothers. Public stigma must always be disclosed, in almost all American and European jurisdictions.

crackhouseCriminal Stigma: f the property was used in the commission of a crime disclosure is mandatory in parts of the U.S. For example, a house may be stigmatized if it has been used as a brothel, chop shop, or drug den. In the case of drug dens, some drug addicts may inadvertently come to the address expecting to purchase illegal drugs. Awkward! However if you move in and you are talented in a particular area, you may wish to offer drug addicts a selection of your handmade Christmas crafts, or home baking, instead.

Of course, the practicality of purchasing a stigmatized house also speaks to price. The real estate value of a stigmatized house tends to drop radically with disclosure, hence the financial reason you may wish to insist on disclosure. Why not save yourself a bundle? It’s also something to consider should you attempt a re-sale. Sellers who inadvertently purchase a stigmatized property may wish to take note: The Lizzie Borden house is a flourishing bed and breakfast industry that attracts tourists in droves. You may wish to pitch a tent at the front of your own stigmatized property and charge admission. You know what they say about making lemonade from lemons…..cha-ching!

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