“Spacious murder house with ex-meth lab, great views” would probably not be the best opener for any real estate listing. However, at the off chance you discover that the dream home your client loves has been the scene of a crime, what should you do about it? Who do you turn to?
As a very possible issue anyone could encounter during the search for their next home, here are four steps to take if you and your client ever find yourself in this situation:
1. Find out your state’s policy on listings and crime disclosure
It’s helpful to start by framing your concerns in context of your state’s disclosure laws regarding crimes and deaths.
These can range from California’s highly regulated laws where any death, even natural ones, must be disclosed if they occurred on a property in the past three years; to only violent deaths needing to be reported in Missouri; to states like Arizona, Oregon or North Carolina where absolutely no disclosure of crime is necessary.
Policies can vary greatly from Alaska’s disclosure laws about disclosing homicides to New York where a seller can choose not to disclose that information even if a request is made in writing, so it’s important to find out where your state stands.
Generally, an agent is only concerned with disclosing material facts and has no legal responsibility to actively research or expressly disclose crimes that occurred on the property.
As with any aspect of a listing, you should always operate under the legal premise of caveat emptor or “buyer beware.” This stems from the idea that any significant negativity of a crime attached to said stigmatized property is public record, and hence notice falls under due diligence on part of the buyer.
2. Consult available professional resources
Often out of professional courtesy and in good faith, many agents may simply choose to disclose any crime-related information upfront. If you want to know, just ask. A real estate lawyer could also be a helpful resource in further investigating a property’s history.
That said, if the crime in question physically damaged the property (for reference, let’s say a drug-growing operation that used humidity-altering equipment that triggered a widespread mold outbreak), the property’s material defects would then be inextricably linked to its criminal past.
In this instance, negotiation should occur, like adding a condition for sale only if defects are remedied. Consulting a real estate lawyer is also recommended if parties need to settle for damages to fund any necessary repairs, etc.
3. Reconsider you client’s criteria with them
Find out how worried your client is after further research, and consult them as best as you can.
While stigmatized properties anecdotally stay on the market longer and sell for less, perhaps any unease that arises is merely a result of superstition or an irrational pinch of probability bias.
Whatever it might be, for some people, any sort of crime-related or macabre past at all colors their perception of a property or neighborhood.
While an absolute deal-breaker for some, a possible substantial discount factor might be a no-brainer incentive for the next buyer who doesn’t care about that aspect of the property and is just looking forward to making the home theirs.
4. Demystify your client’s concerns
Perhaps fear of danger is your client’s nagging concern. In this case, there are plenty of free sites as well as paid online services that reportedly provide crime statistics for any given area.
However, approach these websites with a healthy level of scrutiny as too much information can overwhelm and often be less insightful rather than more so. You can consult the local online sex offender registry as well; in California, disclosure is compulsory as per Megan’s Law.
Another option is contacting the local police department, which should have a call record for the property in question.
As a real estate agent, you should always have a close understanding of your clients’ interests. In this case, listening to and acting upon your clients’ concerns and helping them as much as possible with their final decision is absolutely crucial.
Ultimately, acquiring a home is a deeply personal process and a consequential decision — the question of a listing’s past is just another factor to consider as part of the search for your client’s perfect home.
Albert Anderson is a licensed real estate salesperson with REAL New York. Connect with him on LinkedIn.