Who Died Here?

There are online services that will dig up data on deaths that have occurred in your home!Some home buyers and homeowners recently received a head-turning come-on in their email inboxes: “Unlock Death in Home Information Today.”


“Surely you would want to know if a violent murder or suicide took place in the home before you sign a contract,” reads the email, and readers are told that homes where a tragic death has occurred can fare much worse on the market than others.

“Death in Home” data is the latest dirt that purveyors of “pre-diligence reports,” are making available to the public – for a fee, of course.

Availability of this data is particularly notable because real estate agents and sellers in most states aren’t required to disclose home deaths or a property's violent crimes to buyers, even though the information could theoretically make or break a deal.

Prospective homebuyers who pay the $10-12 fee get reports of individuals who have perished from murder, suicide, accidents or natural causes. OR, for your money you might get a response that there was “No data found on this address.” Hmmmmm…..

The providers claim that “we learned that our customers wanted to know if someone had died in a home before buying or renting it.”

One comment is: “…it’s clear that consumers want this information available earlier in the sales process to help them make a better decision, which may include negotiating a discount off the asking price,”

Another claims that “A home death’s potential impact, particularly a violent one, can shave 25 percent off a home’s value and increase the time a property sits on the market by 50 percent.”

In addition to home death data, reports are also available that reveal local school quality, median income, racial makeup, and property loan and equity information. In addition to important home and neighborhood aspects that aren’t morbid, some serve up data including the surrounding locations of sex offenders, meth houses, environmental hazards and a criminal offender index.

Right to know or TMI?
To some people, these online services are providing a level of transparency that all states should mandate.

However, a death in a home is not considered a “material fact” to a real estate transaction in most states, so agents and sellers are not required to disclose the event; California, Alaska and South Dakota are apparently the exceptions.

In California, sellers must reveal if anyone has died in a home anytime in the past three years, including death by natural causes, while in Alaska and South Dakota, owners only have to call out murders and suicides that have struck in the past year.

At the same time, some states might have resisted requiring sellers to call attention to deaths in their homes for a logical reason, maybe feeling that homeowners who have suffered a recent tragedy shouldn’t be penalized by requiring a disclosure that could slash their home’s value.

Unfair Housing?
All this seems to empower consumers, but it is not without potential headaches for real estate agents.

The display of such sensitive real estate data by online services has sparked debate in the industry, leading to some scrutiny by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the National Fair Housing Alliance.

One reason being, some of this data may undermine the spirit of fair housing laws, which have made many agents leery of disclosing information on protected classes like racial groups for fear of illegally influencing them. It’ll also make it easier for people to sort themselves into communities based on their values and beliefs, feeding the growth of like-minded neighborhoods, contrary to “diversity” goals.

Agents can get into a discrimination conflict even by recommending a neighborhood – it is considered illegal “steering”. Strictly defined: “Racial steering refers to the practice in which real estate brokers guide prospective home buyers towards or away from certain neighborhoods based on their race.” BUT, in practice, anyone who feels like they are part of any legally protected class, not just race, can and will claim they are being discriminated against given half a chance – or less.

So, is death data just one logical element of a complex puzzle of laws, Realtor ethics and customer demands – the latter maybe fueled by marketing hype and fear-mongering?

      •    “Good heavens! People are getting murdered all over this neighborhood!”
      •    Or, “I’m going to need a razor-wire fence to keep criminals out of the house!”
Ok, so what, you ask?
Yes, of course you need to know if the house or property or even the surrounding neighborhood contains hazards that would endanger your family, but what else is important? I know your head is full of things like will our furniture fit?” And how much cash do I need to have on hand to close? Etc.

If you really stop to think about it, is someone having died in the house relevant to a home-buying decision? OK, sure, if the roof caved in and killed someone, or they got electrocuted turning on the light or something caused by the HOUSE itself killed an occupant, but does it REALLY matter to you that 104-year-old great-granddad Bob passed away there?

For one thing, buyers of older or historic homes should realize that up until the early 1900s, most people were born at home and died at home, so it is likely a death could have occurred in the house over the years. Does it matter if it happened 100 or 150 years ago or do only recent deaths bother you?  Think about homes in Europe that are hundreds or even thousands of years old.  People DO buy and live in them, probably sleeping just fine, in spite of all of the possible deaths there over the centuries.

Then, what about the land where the house is built? What was there before the house? Another house where people might have died horribly?  Does that concern you?  Maybe there was something terrible that happened on this site during the Texas Revolution!  Yikes!

So, you get my drift….What do YOU think about it? I’m curious, and hope that you don’t start having nightmares because I got you thinking about it!

PS: I’m not going to even attempt discuss haunted houses, except to say that there are people who WANT them. Price high!

Please visit my website jimatthetop.com for a wealth of information and how-tos about buying and selling real estate, Houston area communities and neighborhoods, financing, mortgage resources and more. 

Jim Pedicord RE/MAX Top Realty

281-610-7847 Cell
713-558-2537 Direct
713-773-3700 x 2537 Office  
713-773-3311 Fax
2911 S. Sam Houston Pkwy. E.   Houston, TX 77047


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