June 17, 2024
Do I need to tell prospective buyers that my husband died in the living room of our home? Exactly what must be disclosed before selling a house?

Do I need to tell prospective buyers that my husband died in the living room of our home? Exactly what must be disclosed before selling a house?

Dear Quentin,

I’m considering selling my home. My question is this: Do l need to advise prospective buyers that my husband passed away in the living room? What am I obliged to tell people who are interested in buying my house?

Widow and Homeowner

Dear Widow,

The short answer to your short question is: It depends on what state you live in. Every state has different rules on disclosures by homeowners when selling a property and on the nature of those disclosures. Ultimately, a good real-estate attorney will answer any questions you may have. You don’t have to do this alone.

But before I go further: I’m sorry your husband passed away, and I do hope that he did so peacefully, and that you had many happy years together. 

And now for the long answer. In California, a seller must disclose if a death has occurred in the house within the last three years, even if it was from natural causes. Cal. Civ. Code § 1710.2 states: “Nothing in this section shall be construed to immunize an owner or his or her agent from making an intentional misrepresentation in response to a direct inquiry from a transferee or a prospective transferee of real property, concerning deaths on the real property.”

Some states have laws about disclosures of events a criminal nature — for instance, if there was a murder in the house. Other states, such as Florida, explicitly say you do not have to disclose such details when selling a home. Case in point: Fla. Stat. Ann. § 689.25(b) states: “Failure to disclose to the transferee that the property was or was suspected to have been the site of a homicide, suicide, or death” is not a material fact that must be disclosed in a real-estate deal.

Sellers must answer questions truthfully, however. “Regardless of which state you live in, if the buyer asks whether a death has occurred in the home, you are legally required to tell them the truth or risk legal repercussions,” according to Realtor.com. “If you aren’t upfront with a buyer early on, you also run the risk that the buyers may pull out of the agreement because they mistrust you — and assume that you’re hiding other things about the property.”

It’s always good practice for any prospective buyer to research a property before buying it to see if there are any past or present situations that could affect the value of the property. That includes knocking on a neighbor’s door to ask about the street, house or neighborhood. Some 11% of people have moved because of their neighbors and nearly 75% dislike their neighbors, this survey found.

Good luck with your house sale. I hope you get a good price, and I wish you the best of everything in this new chapter of your life.

Yocan email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at [email protected], and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

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