When Someone Has Died In Your Listing, Do You Disclose It?

Real Estate Agent with RLAH Real Estate AB95346

When my mother's health was in a major decline, she did not want to go to a hospital or nursing home.  She knew (at least on some level) that she wasnt' going to be around much longer, and she wanted to be at home when the end came.  And we honored her wishes. 

A few months after she passed, we listed the house, and during the first week or so that the house was on the market, a prospective buyer wanted to make an offer.  When she learned that the sale was to settle an estate, she asked if the seller had died in the house.  I sent the listing agent an email to pass onto the buyer explaining that yes.  My mother died in the house, peacefully and surrounded by children and grandchildren who loved her.  I explained that she basically  died of very old age, and she had had a wonderful life in this house.  Alas, the buyer had a thing about this particular issue, and she decided against the house. 

And it reminded me of a transaction I had back in the '80s.  It was the stone house on the right.  And it had been owned by a lovely elderly gentleman who always wore (at least in the winter time), a cashmere coat and bowler hat, and every day he took a walk through the neighborhood into his 90's. For many decades, he served as the president of the neighborhood association.

Then one day, he didn't take his walk, and people noticed.  A neighbor had a key, and he went into the house and found that he had died peacefully in his sleep. 

One of my investor clients bought the house from the estate, and I worked with him to get it removated and back on the market.  And he gave me strict instructions to put on the fact sheet that this lovely old gentleman had passed in the house. 

At the first Open House (for neighbors only on Saturday), a bunch of the neighborhood little old ladies dropped by.  They all had had crushes on him and may have, um, dated him?  OK, and at the time they were probably the same age that I am now. 

And several of them said, "Honey, there's no ghost here!  He's moved on!" 

And at the second Open House for the public the next day, the couple who bought the place thought it was a very good sign that the previous owner had died in his sleep in his own home in his 90's. 

So what am I saying here?

If you have an elderly parent who is in failing health, and if they want to opt for home hospice, I think you owe it to them to honor their wishes.  But there are some people who come from cultures where it's not cool to live in a house where someone has died.  They don't care that the seller lived for 200 years old and had a wonderful life and won a Nobel Prize for Peace and a Pulitzer for a the novel of the century.  They don't notice that the house has a great vibe and that Elvis (or in this case, Alice) has left the building. 

But I gotta say, the people who eventually bought my mom's house didn't even ask.  If they had, I would have sent them the same email that I sent to the first buyer, and I doubt that it would have mattered.  Oh!  And I'm sure that my morther would have loved them. 


If you are planning a move to or from the Washington area, I can help.  I am licensed in DC, Maryland and Virginia.   Please email me at Housepat@mac.com or call 202-549-5167. 

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Comments (53)

Ed Tseng
El Sobrante, CA

I bought a house from probate sale back in the late 80's, improved it, and lived in for a few years. I enjoyed every bit of that house just like its old owner did. No problem whatsoever, however it is required by law to disclose in CA, instead of disclose passively.

Mar 18, 2013 07:46 AM
Andrea Curtis United Country Premier Properties Certified Military Relocation Professional
United CountryPremier Properties - Harker Heights, TX

If asked I do.   We don't have to disclose that in Texas BUT you know the first thing the "helpful" neighbors are going to say is ....it's just so sad_________ (fill in the blank).  Better to disclose than to have issues later. 

Mar 18, 2013 07:53 AM
SarahGray Lamm
Allen Tate Realtors Chapel Hill, NC 919-819-8199 - Chapel Hill, NC
Realtor - 100K Hours of NC Real Estate Experience
My father died, as he wished, in our family home. It was a peaceful and calm experience and I wouldn't have had it any other way. The buyer of the house knew, the town is small, and it was never discussed. I'm sorry there are folks who cannot appreciate the idea that leaving this world surrounded by your loved ones and in your home is a valued way of life in many parts of America. Certainly I would answer the direct question as you did. In my market, I find it best to disclose (barring breaking a law) to buyers, anything the neighbors will tell them later. If they can't accept it they simply aren't our buyer.
Mar 18, 2013 08:11 AM
Maureen Bray Portland OR Home Stager ~ Room Solutions Staging
Room Solutions Staging, Portland OR - Portland, OR
"Staging Consultations that Sell Portland Homes"

Pat, your post shows the importance of emotional considerations buyers have when looking for a home. I remember a few years ago at a Sunday open house, I looked at a charming vintage 1930's house ... this was in the San Francisco Bay area ... and the listing agent told me that the owner had not only died there, but had committed suicide .. in the bathroom's tiled shower. He added that a "cleansing ritual" had been performed, to encourage any spirits to move on peacefully.

I must admit that it kind of gave me the heebie-jeebies when I thought about it later.  In CA, disclosing a death in the home is law.  Somehow, the details about this home stayed with me for quite a while.

Mar 18, 2013 08:12 AM
Patricia Kennedy
RLAH Real Estate - Washington, DC
Home in the Capital

Thnaks for all your comments! 

And you're right.  The laws vary from state to state.  And it really doesn't matter to many of us, but in some cultures it's important.  I guess that's why we have new construction!

Mar 18, 2013 08:49 AM
Alyse "Aly" Sands
AGORA Realty - Nashville, TN
It's Good To Be Home

There's a pretty good chance that, in an older home someone died in the house of an illness or old age.  In TN, we are required to disclose anytihng that has to do with the condition of the house but not whether anyone died in it.  This is information that the buyers can get from the neighbors.  Gossip is not part of my job description unless the seller specifically instructed me to disclose.  I'd want to know why before I moved forward with it.  

It just occurred to me that I just sold a listing a few weeks ago in which the seller recently passed and while the buyers were told that the owner passed and the home was left to his children, it never crossed my mind to mention that he passed in the home nor was I asked by the buyers or anyone else if he had. 

Mar 18, 2013 08:58 AM
Dagny Eason
Dagny's Real Estate - Wilton, CT
Fairfield County CT, CDPE Homes For Sale and Condo

Pat - beautiful story - I think folks are silly to avoid a house where someone has died peacefully.  That house has great vibes in it.

Mar 18, 2013 11:23 AM
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Paatricia - Some people are just strange. Maybe they're afraid of death? I can see being put off by a violent death - such as suicide or murder. Energy does stay within a house. But a peaceful death, surrounded by loved ones, is simply a part of a good life.

Mar 18, 2013 11:35 AM
Lloyd Binen
Certified Realty Services - Saratoga, CA
Silicon Valley Realtor since 1976; 408-373-4411

Hi Pat,  CA law is very explicit.  It's the result of a lawsuit in San Francisco about 20 years ago that ruled a death is a "material fact" that must be disclosed if it occurred within 3 years of the sale.  Then the activist LGBT community got it modified to exclude death from HIV/AIDS.  In that case it's deemed confidential and it's NOT a material fact.  UNLESS, the listing agent or seller is asked directly if the death resulted from HIV AIDS.  So the dark joke is to wheel grandma into the backyard just before she passes.  Most listing agents disclose a death even if it's more than 3 years and especially if it was a suicide or homicide.

To avoid deals falling through we disclose it prior to ratification of the contract and let the buyer decide if it's "material" or not.

Mar 18, 2013 02:24 PM
Kimo Jarrett
WikiWiki Realty - Huntington Beach, CA
Pro Lifestyle Solutions

People have been dying since birth, so if the death has recently occurred, of course you want to disclose it and should that be a major issue for the buyers, another buyer will come along, they have and will continue to buy homes even if the sellers died there. 

Mar 18, 2013 04:37 PM
Joni Bailey
101 Main St. Realty - Huntsville, TX
Your Huntsville / Lake Livingston Area REALTOR®

We are to disclose murder, or death due to a material defect, but other than that, we do not have to disclose.  When asked my opinion, I always say that it is best to disclose. If it is going to freak them out, I would rather they find out about it BEFORE they purchase it, rather than after. The ultimate decision on disclosing death by natural causes or suicide is made by the seller.

Mar 19, 2013 01:27 PM
Gene Riemenschneider
Home Point Real Estate - Brentwood, CA
Turning Houses into Homes

I think the law here is that if it happenned in the last 3 years I have to disclose - unless it was AIDS related.  But if I ran into the situation I would doulbe check the law.

Mar 20, 2013 04:08 AM
Paddy Deighan MBA JD PhD
federalfinanciallawgroup.com - Vail, CO
Paddy Deighan J.D. Ph.D

I think it is better to get this information disclosed as quickly as possible. when the buyers find out later from the neighbors a certain percentage will be mad.

Mar 22, 2013 07:36 AM
Deleted Account
Fort Myers, FL

Actually, I say yes and no.  If a person dies in a home where a crime is involved, then I think it is a must to disclose it.  If they died from a disease, it would depend on the disease and if it is contagious or not.  If it was from natural causes, it should not be necessary unless asked.

Mar 22, 2013 11:57 AM
Marti Steele Kilby, CRS
Steele Group Realty - La Mesa, CA
Broker/Owner, San Diego, CA

As several fellow Californians have pointed out, it is the law that we must disclose if someone has died in the home within the last 3 years.  It's interesting, but in that siutation, I've never had anyone question the manner of death, which to me would be my first question!  As a buyer, I don't think i could buy a home where someone was murdered...just way too much negative energy to overcome!

Mar 22, 2013 03:15 PM
Deleted Account
Fort Myers, FL

I think Marti (#48) is thinking the same way I am.  I am okay with natural causes or even certain diseases, but not some diseases, a suicide or a murder.  To me, that would make all the difference.  I live in a condo association of 100 units that is mainly a 55+ community.  We have 1-2 people a year that die of old age, these are people in their 90's, who will die in their home.  If people didn't buy here just because someone died in the home, we would be half empty.

Mar 22, 2013 10:15 PM
Carol Zingone
Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Florida Network Realty - Jacksonville Beach, FL
Global Realtor in Jax Beach, FL - ABR, CRS, CIPS

We don't have to disclose, in our area, HOWEVER, I have heard situations where the buyers did not know, and find out post- sale, which can create some major headaches.

Mar 24, 2013 09:38 PM
Wayne B. Pruner
Oregon First - Tigard, OR
Tigard Oregon Homes for Sale, Realtor, GRI

What a great story! I would take the same approach as you did.

May 20, 2013 12:11 AM
Des & Spiro Kouridakis
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices CA Properties - Yorba Linda, CA
- North Orange County Experts

Again, in California we have to disclose if it was in the last 3 years.  I like that the buyers can get the information and see if it's right for them.  I would want to know!

Oct 25, 2013 11:09 AM
Pat & Wayne Harriman
Harriman Real Estate, LLC (203) 672-4499 - Wallingford, CT
Broker/Owners, Wallingford CT Real Estate

Read recently that there is a web site for people to find out if someone has died in their home:

Died In House


Oct 25, 2013 01:21 PM