We moved into a lovely home in upstate New York in May of 2001. Great house. Acre lot, big wrap-around porch, hummingbirds on the patio, all ensconced in woodlands fifteen miles north of NYC. Three bedrooms - enough for us, the daughter and one to spare for any potential guests. Fine.
About six months in, I was talking to the neighbors from across the street. At one point in the conversation, I mentioned that I thought the house might have a ghost. My husband and I had both experienced some unusual happenings - books falling that we couldn't find on the floor, doors slamming upstairs that were open upon further inspection, etc. When they heard my stories, they went "pale."
Upon further discussion, it turns out our house had been the scene of a tragedy. The previous owner, a husband and father of two little girls, had shot himself in what was my daughter's bedroom. Shotgun. His wife married the landscape guy six months later.
We dealt with it - nothing else to do - and the incidents stopped when I shouted the ghost out of the house after a particularly irritating series of sessions. We put it on the market (before I was a Realtor) for reasons unrelated to Tim the Ghost as he came to be called. It took a year to sell, but it did...without any further problems from Tim.
And herein lies the question. Did my Realtor need to inform the buyers of what took place in the house? Was she required to disclose a suicide, (or its subsequent possible ghostly inhabitation) to buyers viewing the property?
Most states (including New York) don't require sellers to disclose information about "stigmatized properties," homes that have had homicides, suicides or other tragedies. Alaska and South Dakota are the only two states that mandate the sellers' agents disclose whether a homicide or suicide occurred in the last twelve months. In other states, Connecticut, Delaware, North Dakota, New Hampshire and Oklahoma, sellers are only required to disclose such details when asked by a buyer.
Dead people DO have the ability to kill a sale. Statistics from the a study by Wright State scholars of 102 stigmatized homes sales showed that they took an average of 45 percent longer to sell than comparable homes. Interestingly, homicide homes in rural or non-urban locations where homicides are rarer took even longer. They tended to acquire a "reputation" and were "known" in the local community.
On the positive side, buyers who don't mind owning a home with a colored past can often find bargains. Stygmatized homes often sell for much less than their comps. Unless there are still bodies in the basement, these homes can be a positive boon! Consider the home in Amityville, NY that was the site of the famous Amityville Horror. In May 2010 it went on the market. In August, it was purchased by a local resident who saved $200,000 off the asking price.