The States Where Real Estate Agents Don’t Have to Tell You If Someone Died in Your House
I didn’t find out until a year after I bought it that someone had died in my house. My new neighbors let it slip over a glass of wine and then clammed up immediately like they weren’t supposed to share the information. My real estate agent had been the same way — she didn’t want to share anything about potential deaths in the home. Ultimately, it’s not a big deal, and especially not in my case, where the previous homeowner had passed away peacefully in her old age. Under most circumstances, though, the seller isn’t required to say anything unless they’re asked.
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“If someone passed away after living a long, happy life, it’s not really something you have to disclose,” says Michele Messina, an agent with RE/MAX Villa Realtors in New Jersey. “I’m in contract now on a home that will be brought back to life by a lovely couple after closing, and they are excited to move in knowing that there was a person that had lived a long, happy life there for many years.”
The key point here is that you have to ask. If you don’t, the agent doesn’t have to tell you — and if you do, some states require they tell you the truth. It has to do with something called “material facts.” Material facts are anything that is a potential defect to a property, like a leaky roof or cracked foundation. A death in the house, in many states, is not considered a material fact.
That being said, if the death was something outside natural causes, like a suicide or a murder, your agent will probably want to fess up anyway.
“In this case, if you do not disclose, your reputation could be at stake because the buyer may not trust you to share important information, particularly if this is a highly publicized violent event,” Messina says. “I do work with an estate attorney now, and I do disclose what I find out. Often people walk in, and they feel the energy of the home.”
Which States Require Disclosing a Death on the Property?
Wondering what your state requires — or doesn’t require — real estate agents to disclose about on-property deaths? Consult the list below.
Must disclose murder or suicide within the past year
- South Dakota
Must disclose any death within the last three years
Does not need to disclose anything unless asked in a written request
Does not need to disclose anything unless directly asked
No disclosure is required, but sellers are recommended to disclose anyway
Disclosure is only required if it affects the future use or value of the home
Disclosure is only required if death was a result of property conditions, like toxic mold or carbon monoxide
- New Jersey
Can only disclose with permission from the seller
- North Dakota
Not required to disclose anything (but agents can’t obscure the truth if asked)
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- Washington, D.C.
- West Virginia