Content of the material
- Should a death in a house impact your home search?
- Cash offers are 4x more likely to be accepted
- Use the Internet
- 2. Check Public Records
- 5. Ask the Past Owners
- Consult Census Records and City Directories
- Talk to Locals
- #2: Ask the seller and the Real Estate Agent
- How to check if someone has died in your house
- Ask the seller or your real estate agent
- Search the home’s address
- Research public records tied to the home’s address
- Search your community’s local news site
- Visit local community archives or genealogical societies
- Talk to neighbors
- Use online databases
- #4: Cross Reference Previous Owners With Death Records
- Read the seller disclosure form
- We Make Buying & Selling Simple!
- We’re Here to Help
Should a death in a house impact your home search?
We’ve all seen haunted house movies. Family finds a beautiful house on the market for an inexplicably low price, moves in, things start mysteriously moving themselves, the neighbors steer clear, and then the full-scale haunting happens.
None of that is likely to happen if someone died in your house, but there is a psychological aspect to real estate.
Many people just don’t want to live in a house where someone died or experienced something gruesome. If you’re reading this article, you just might be that type of person. Rest assured, you’re not alone. Whether you’re buying or selling, it’s worth investigating whether or not someone has died in a home. If you decide that your dream home is haunted, you may be able to use Orchard to find another option.
Stigma is real and it often leads to houses becoming devalued. Depending on the deaths or events that occurred at a house, it could decrease a home’s value by more than 3%.
Cash offers are 4x more likely to be accepted Orchard can help you make a stronger, all-cash offer. Enter your current address to see if you qualify.
Use the Internet
There’s at least one reliable website out there, DiedinHouse.com, that will check the address for you for a reasonable fee. The site will search over 130 million records for you, including homes in all 50 states.
If you don't want to spend the money, you might try asking neighbors or checking the home's title, which should give you a full list of anyone who has ever owned the property. You can then check the list against public records.
2. Check Public Records
Looking at the public records associated with the house is another way to find out if someone has died there. Many jurisdictions will have a legal mandate requiring public records to address any deaths or serious crimes that have been witnessed on-premises. You can do this by asking the town for information on the home.
5. Ask the Past Owners
Though some may not want to be honest about it, many owners will be transparent about the home’s history. In some cases, it might even be the reason why they’re choosing to sell the house. Even if you don’t expect them to be forthright, it’s worth a shot at the very least.
Consult Census Records and City Directories
Tracking down previous owners of your home is a great start, but only tells a part of the story. What about all of the other people who may have lived there? Children? Parents? Cousins? Even lodgers? This is where census records and city directories come into play.
The U.S. government took a census each decade beginning in 1790 and the resulting US census records through 1940 are open to the public and available online. State census records are also available for some states and time periods—generally taken about mid-way between each federal decennial census.
City directories, available for most urban areas and many towns, can be used to fill in gaps between available census enumerations. Search them by address (e.g. “4711 Hancock“) to locate everyone who may have lived in or boarded at the residence.
Talk to Locals
Talking to neighbors is another free strategy that can yield far more valuable information than anything that can be found on the web. Chances are, some of your neighbors have been living in their homes for decades. They know all about the past occupants of your house and could provide some very useful information.
As you can imagine, someone dying in a neighborhood is a big deal. There are ambulances, police, firefighters, the coroner, and sometimes even news media. Anyone in the neighborhood at the time will surely remember it and could recall what happened to you. They’ll be able to provide a far more vivid and accurate depiction of what happened than news or police reports. Don’t be afraid to ask!
#2: Ask the seller and the Real Estate Agent
Suppose you ask the seller and their real estate a direct and specific question about past deaths at the home, irrespective of what it says on the seller disclosure form. Must they answer? On a balance of probabilities — yes, they probably should.
The law regarding death disclosures is unfortunately gray. Some states actively protect sellers and real estate agents who say nothing about previous deaths.
Yet homebuyers in other states have successfully sued sellers for keeping quiet about grisly past events. Professional bodies such as the National Association of Realtors routinely advise their members to be open and upfront about known stigmas in the homes they are selling, lest they face a lawsuit from disgruntled homebuyers.
For homebuyers the advice is simple: if you want to know something, ask. Most real estate agents will supply the information you are looking for. Just makes sure you know what you are asking.
All the case law on the subject of death disclosures concerns properties that have witnessed a murder, suicide or haunting. So far, no homebuyer has successfully sued a home seller for failing to disclose a normal, peaceful death in the home. Remember those home deaths were once commonplace.
See also How To Find Real Estate Comps
There’s a good chance that an older home has witnessed the death of an occupant, and neither the seller not their agent will know about it.
How to check if someone has died in your houseWhether you live in a state that requires the disclosure of previous deaths in a house, there are several ways you can go about finding out the answer yourself.
Ask the seller or your real estate agentOne way to find out whether someone has died in your home is simply to ask the real estate agent or seller. Depending on your state, the realtor may or may not be required to tell you, but you’ll never know until you try.
Search the home’s addressEntering a prospective home’s address in a search engine is a simple but effective first step to finding out if something notable has occurred in the house. This doesn’t have to be a death, but there could be other events that are worth knowing about, like certain crimes or house fires.
Research public records tied to the home’s addressCensus records, deeds, and death certificates are all examples of documents that could be connected to a home’s address.
Search your community’s local news siteEven if your prospective home’s address isn’t explicitly named, you may be able to discover incidents tied to the house by using keywords associated with more general items, like the street or neighborhood name, or the names of past owners.It’s possible you may also come across obituaries of a previous owner that note that the deceased person died in their home.MORE: How to settle into a new house
Visit local community archives or genealogical societiesYour local library’s archives and regional genealogical societies may have records containing information about the house and previous inhabitants. If you’re lucky, they’ll be staffed by people who know the community like the back of their hand and might know the answers you’re looking for themselves or will at least be able to point you in the right direction.
Talk to neighborsYou don’t have to risk scaring your neighbors from the get-go by asking about deaths—you can simply ask what they know about the house and people who have lived there over the years. If you’ve done research on the home ahead of time and suspect a death might have occurred on the property, the information you’ve found can help you steer the conversation gently in that direction. Plus, talking to neighbors can give you a general sense of what people in the neighborhood are like and how well they know each other.
Use online databasesSome websites keep track of various events that happen on properties, from crimes to fires to deaths. Examples include HouseCreep.com and DiedInHouse.com.Some are free to use (and will have dubious levels of credibility), while others may require you to pay to search their records. Use these resources at your own discretion.You can also review census records via the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration or online databases set up by your area’s vital records office, which can be particularly helpful if you live in an older home.MORE: How to bundle home and auto insurance to save money
#4: Cross Reference Previous Owners With Death Records
If you have plenty of time on your hands, you can try cross-referencing the names of previous owners of the property with local death records. This requires a lot of legwork.
To find the names of previous owners, ask the seller if they have an abstract of title.
The property’s abstract is a condensed history of all the deeds, mortgages and probate records relating to the home. Abstracts go back to the first construction date and should list all previous owners of the property.
If the seller doesn’t have an abstract — and most won’t, since many abstracts were routinely destroyed when title insurance became commonplace — visit the county recorder’s office.
Here you can check all recorded deeds relating to the property. It’s a laborious exercise, especially if the records are not computerized.
First, you will have to find your deed in the deed book, then use the referencing on that document to locate the preceding transaction and so on, back to the point the property’s records began.
See also Are my Neighbors Affecting the Sale of my Home?
The recorder can show you the quickest way to accomplish this task.
Armed with your list of previous owners, it’s time to check the death records. Various genealogy websites list death records online. Most ask you to simply type in the name of the previous owner, and the search engine will return a death record showing when and where they died.
Sounds easy, right? There’s a catch. The county deed book records former owners of the property, not who actually lived there. Wives, children, renters and so on may be missing from your list.
Also, a death certificate will not usually tell you whether the deceased died in the home, in a hospital or somewhere else, so you may be left with a lot of unanswered questions.
Read the seller disclosure form
Read over the seller disclosure form to see if there’s anything that looks suspicious or anything that looks like it has been purposefully left blank. If so, talk to your real estate agent about having a conversation with the seller about the history of the home. It’s in their best interest to tell you the true history of the home because if you find out information about a death which would turn you away from buying the home at the last minute, the deal could fall through.However, most states don’t require the seller to disclose deaths which occurred in the home. California is the only state which requires a seller to disclose all deaths which occurred in the house over the past three years. The only other two states with death disclosure laws are Alaska and South Dakota, which require an owner to disclose any murders or suicides which occurred in the house within the past year. Some states do require a seller to disclose death information is a buyer asks, but the lines are a little blurred on exactly what is necessary to disclose.
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