Most states require home sellers to reveal major defects about a home to potential buyers, like a leaky roof, broken appliance or cracked foundation. These are considered “material facts” that must be disclosed to a buyer before the deal is closed. And in some states, those real estate disclosure laws go so far as to include a death in your home.
While many people wouldn’t be bothered about a death in a home, in some cultures it’s a deal breaker. Because it’s a major issue for some buyers, California, Alaska and South Dakota require home sellers to reveal that information to all potential buyers.
States with Specific Requirements
In California, sellers must reveal if a death in the home has occurred anytime in the past three years, including death by natural causes (although certain types of deaths, like those from AIDS, cannot be disclosed). And if a buyer comes out and asks about a death that occurred at any time, even longer than three years ago, the seller is required to provide a truthful response.
In Alaska and South Dakota, murders or suicides must be disclosed only if they happened within the past year. In other states, the laws are less black and white; a seller may need to disclose the information only if a buyer asks. To understand the death in home disclosure regulations in your area, you should get in touch with local real estate agent.
The Bottom Line
Typically, if a buyer is concerned about it, the buyer will come right out and ask before making an offer. But if you’re selling a home in which a death has occurred, it’s best to disclose that information upfront. You don’t want to get all the way through the escrow process to find out that the buyer has concerns about it. And if you don’t disclose it, the buyer may be able to take legal action if he or she finds out later. As always, the best motto is to do the right thing.
If you’re a buyer and are concerned about a death in a home (or how it may affect the resale value), ask the listing agent to disclose that information. If the listing agent doesn’t know, you can use a service like DiedinHouse.com, which will investigate whether someone has died there.