Does Death in a Home have to be Disclosed?

By
Real Estate Agent with Donna Homes, PLR 0480809

Does a death or suicide need to be disclosed by a seller or a listing agent? I haven't been asked many times over the years, but it comes up every so often.  What's Texas law?

Texas law states, in summary, that disclosure is only needed if the house caused the death. What does that mean? The biggest example always used is say a house was a known drug house. Someone got mad and did a drive-by shooting and someone died. Upon resale, the death would need to be disclosed because if word does not spread around the drug community that the house had been sold, the new owners might be at risk.

An example of where murder does not have to be disclosed is if there was a home invasion and the robbers tragically murdered the home owners. It could have been any house, so the house wouldn't remain in harms way.

Suicides and death by natural causes are not caused by the house and also do not have to be disclosed.

When I was 12, I lived in a haunted house. The little old lady slipped in the bathtub and drowned. This was not disclosed, not because we were just renting, but because it was an accident. The house didn't cause the death. When the agent was questioned, her response was, "That's Florence. She's really very nice, but just doesn't like when there are a lot of kids around." She would turn lights on in the master bedroom. She would move candles and turn pictures around. You would feel a gust of wind slamming a door after friends would leave.

Legally, Florence did not need to be disclosed and she wasn't... until asked. That's where there is a fine line. If an agent knows there was a death, murder, or suicide in a home that legally doesn't have to be disclosed, it must be disclosed if/when asked. As a licensed real estate agent, we cannot lie to a direct question like that.

Many people say it's best to disclose before the buyers find out from a neighbor. Possibly. I think it's a case by case situation. If there was huge news coverage and a known fact to the general public what happened, maybe it's best to advise the sellers to disclose. If it was something years ago and no one really pays attention, what's the point in mentioning it? Many people in older homes like to die peacefully in their own homes, and it would be ridiculous to have to disclose every natural cause death.

If you feel information like that would make you object to a house, I suggest you ask if the box on the seller's disclosure notice is marked as no.  A listing agent cannot volunteer this information without explicit instructions by their seller or they could be considered hindering the sale and reveling confidential information.

**Are You Packed Yet?** 

donna harris Realtor Austin TX blog

Donna Harris, REALTOR®
RE/MAX Austin Skyline
www.DonnaHomes.coma
Donna@DonnaHomes.com

Austin TX Real Estate and the surrounding areas of Lakeway, Bee Cave, West Lake Hills, Cedar Park, Round Rock, Spicewood, Circle-C, Steiner Ranch, and everywhere in between... Hill Country Austin TX Real Estate and beyond. Whether you're buying or selling an Austin home, I'll be with you every step of the way. 

For real time Austin TX listings, click here.

** #1 Agent in my Office for all of 2008 **

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Rainmaker
111,122
Jerry Morse
The Morse Company - Janesville, WI
BBA,GRI

Wisconsin law says that agents have no duty to disclose; it does not mention sellers.

Sep 19, 2010 11:06 PM #42
Rainmaker
443,050
Lana Robbins Realtor ® Licensed Real Estate Broker
Aloha Kai Real Estate - Clearwater, FL
Tampa Bay, Florida Real Estate

Hi Donna. As John in Comment #41 already mentioned those of us in Florida are not required by law to disclose if there was a death in a home. For me I would want to know so I can understand why some buyers want to know too.

Sep 19, 2010 11:12 PM #43
Rainmaker
683,647
Ruthmarie Hicks
Keller Williams NY Realty - 120 Bloomingdale Road #101, White Plains NY 10605 - White Plains, NY

I think if the buyer asks - you should tell the truth.  However, in an old home - one might not know for sure!  People died at home at the time in years gone by.  Nowadays they tend to die in the hospital.  Both of my parents were fortunate enough to die in their own homes - and were spared that last trip to the hospital.

Sep 19, 2010 11:42 PM #44
Rainmaker
345,003
Agent Aaron Vaughn, REALTOR® Listing Specialist
Capitol Home Team | Austin TX - Buda, TX
The $500 Million Marketing Advantage

Donna: I swear, these questions will be the death of me yet!

Sep 20, 2010 12:29 AM #45
Rainmaker
48,450
Tony Cannon
Bressi Realty Carlsbad - Oceanside, CA
Real Estate - Oceanside Carlsbad

Disclose, disclose, disclose. I would hate to be wondering after a sale whether I was soon going to be getting a phone call from the buyers or their lawyer once they found out a house's recent history.

I believe the California law is a death on the property of any cause must be disclosed if occurring in the past 3 years, or when directly questioned by the buyers. The cause of death need not be disclosed if it was AIDS.

I had a sale a few years ago where the death was in the garden, and not in the house. I believe my research found that was not a mandatory disclosure, but I could be wrong...

Sep 20, 2010 01:07 AM #47
Ambassador
916,460
Fred Griffin
Get There Social Media, LLC - Tallahassee, FL
Real Estate Technology

Hi, Donna.  I know you said "Texas", but as a Florida Broker, let me chime in anyway...

I have been approached about listing a house where a dramatic murder-suicide occurred (made the TV news and the local paper a couple of years ago).

Even as a transaction broker with limited confidentiality, even with the knowledge of Florida Statutes 689.25 (see John Elwell's reply #28),  I will get a written opinion from my attorney before agreeing to list this house.

 

Sep 20, 2010 01:24 AM #48
Rainmaker
1,186,020
Cheryl Ritchie
RE/MAX Leading Edge www.GoldenResults.com - Huntingtown, MD
Southern Maryland 301-980-7566

This happened in a home that I had owned and my choice was to disclose up front as the Listing Agent and years later to disclose up front as a Buyer's Agent on the same home.

Sep 20, 2010 03:46 AM #49
Ambassador
1,657,767
Fernando Herboso - Broker for Maxus Realty Group
Maxus Realty Group - Broker 301-246-0001 - Gaithersburg, MD
301-246-0001 Serving Maryland, DC and Northern VA

In Maryland we don't have to disclose. . but I wish there was a more uniform disclosure law in a national level. 

Sep 20, 2010 08:01 AM #50
Rainmaker
895,372
Michael Setunsky
Michael's Commercial LLC - Woodbridge, VA
Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA

Donna, here in Virginia it does not have to be disclosed. If asked, I would not lie to the buyer.

Sep 20, 2010 08:50 AM #51
Rainmaker
97,043
Mindy Sylvester
MVP Realty - Naples, FL
Naples Fl Real Estate

I never thought that horror movie plot details would get such a interesting discussion on Active Rain!! Donna, thank you...this was a VERY interesting morning read.

Sep 20, 2010 09:37 AM #52
Rainmaker
895,884
Brian Madigan
RE/MAX West Realty Inc., Brokerage (Toronto) - Toronto, ON
LL.B., Broker

In Ontario, some do and some don't. There is no obligation on the part of the agent unless it is considered a marterial fact, in which case, then it becomes a matter of opinion.

Sep 20, 2010 09:39 AM #53
Rainmaker
853,012
J. Philip Faranda
J. Philip Faranda (J. Philip R.E. LLC) Westchester County NY - Briarcliff Manor, NY
Broker-Owner

This was always a big discussion in licensing class. It is interesting how the rules vary by state. As Mitchell correctly stated, New York is a caveat emptor state and it therefore does not have to be disclosed. 

Sep 20, 2010 10:31 AM #54
Rainmaker
39,088
Troy George
Colleyville, Texas Real Estate Expert - Synergy Realty - Colleyville, TX
Real Estate Broker - Colleyville/Southlake - (817-410-8769)

This is an interesting topic! I'm glad it got featured.

Sep 20, 2010 10:45 AM #55
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1,113,969
Bryan Robertson
Catarra Real Estate, Inc - Los Altos, CA
Broker, Author, Speaker

In California you're required to disclose any deaths in the last three years, regardless of cause.  However, as a matter of course, I recommend disclosing ANY deaths regardless of when they occurred.  May buyers have an issue with any death in a house and not disclosing could be an issue.

Sep 20, 2010 12:11 PM #56
Rainmaker
1,390,899
Donna Harris
Donna Homes, PLR - Austin, TX
Realtor, CDPE & ASP - Hill Country Lakeway Austin

Yes, it's very interesting to see the laws varying by state. It still concerns me with the comments people are making that "it's best to disclose", and AGAIN, it's not best to disclose if your seller client has instructed you not to disclose, and your state laws say they legally don't have to. It's NOT up to you, it's up to them.

Does this post need to lead to another one about Fiduciary Responsibilities to your clients??

Sep 20, 2010 01:03 PM #57
Rainmaker
1,092,012
Bryant Tutas
Bryant Tutas-Tutas Towne Realty, Inc - Poinciana, FL
Broker/REALTOR, Tutas Towne Realty, Inc

Donna, I completely agree with your last comment. There another post featured today about disclose or not disclose and of course many agents are in there saying "disclose, disclose, disclose!" I truly don't get that way of thinking.

What if.....my seller was dieing of cancer and wanted to sell her house so she could spend the last months of her life traveling. This certainly affects the value of the property. But I doubt anyone would agree that this needs to be disclosed. I don't see how this is any different than a house with a murder, suicide or other crime.

As long as it's legal it's the sellers choice and only the sellers choice whether or not to disclose. It's not a gray area.

If agents don't understand this stuff the consumer doesn't have a chance in hell of getting a fair shake.

 

Sep 20, 2010 05:00 PM #58
Rainmaker
1,390,899
Donna Harris
Donna Homes, PLR - Austin, TX
Realtor, CDPE & ASP - Hill Country Lakeway Austin

Bryant, That's what I was trying to stress, but many people don't get it. Yes, we're taught to disclose, disclose, disclose, but that's for the things we're supposed to disclose, not the things that we're not supposed to!

Sep 20, 2010 08:26 PM #59
Ambassador
1,113,969
Bryan Robertson
Catarra Real Estate, Inc - Los Altos, CA
Broker, Author, Speaker

Hi Donna - In our state we have to disclose any in the past three years.  However, the attorneys I know all say the same thing, if a seller has knowledge of something that COULD materially affect the value of the property, they MUST disclose it.  So, even if the death was further back that the law requires, a buyer might have a case is the seller withheld a fact.

In those cases, I'll recommend disclosure but I won't do it myself.  It isn't up to me to do it.  So, I'm agreeing with you that we shouldn't disclose information we're not privy to but it is important to remind our clients of the consequences if they knowingly hid something.

Sep 21, 2010 02:32 AM #60
Rainmaker
260,647
Bill Travis
Captain Bill Realty, LLC - Gilbert, AZ
Broker/Owner

In AZ, deaths and homicides to not have to be disclosed.

Sep 23, 2010 10:46 AM #61
Rainmaker
336,974
Jon Quist
LONG REALTY - Tucson, AZ
Tucson's BUYERS ONLY Realtor since 1996

Regarding the proximity of a graveyard, some cultures have traditions that prohibit nearness to a graveyard. I think I was told that if the graveyard was visible from the property, regardless of distance, that was too close.

Oct 31, 2010 02:09 AM #62
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