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At what point does disclosure become oversharing? p3

8/28/2014 | Real Estate Blog

Do you wonder why people like to be scared? Why haunted houses are so popular at Halloween? A friend from the Midwest tells us of a house where a notorious murder took place there about 30 years ago. The house is now a museum, a tribute to robber baron architecture.

But tour guides do not discuss the murder. Our friend said her companion pointed out the place where the body was found, where the nurse had slept and other ghoulish details. Their tour group was more interested in the murder than they were in the craftsman details of the 39-room home. The guide had a hard time moving them along.

Philadelphia is an old city, and we are full of “haunted” places that visitors can see on haunted tours. There is just something about walking through a cemetery at night after being told that the ghost of an ax murderer walks the grounds. People who don’t believe in ghosts — or who don’t believe that a building can be changed by gruesome crimes committed within its walls — may admit to feeling uneasy on one of these tours.

But when a house is the site of a tragedy or a crime, should it be demolished? Is there a stigma attached to the property, an “it’s a spooky place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there” reputation that cannot be overcome? Should a seller have to disclose a building’s violent past?

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania does not think so. In the case we have been discussing, the court dismisses the notion that a property’s history can decrease its value.

Property value depends on the condition of the property itself, not its vibe, the court said, and a crime or a tragedy on the property simply does not qualify as a material defect. As a representative of the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors put it, “Unless a suicide or murder was motivated by the leaks in the basement or the sewer backing up, it doesn’t have anything to do with the quality of the real estate.”

The court added, too, that the crime was notorious enough that the buyer could have easily discovered it on her own. News of the Konstantinos murder-suicide in February 2006 made it well past the borders of Delaware County.

Let the buyer beware, and let the wary do their research before buying.


Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Milliken v. Jacono, — A.3d —-, 2014 WL 3579791 (Pa.), via Westlaw, “Pa. home sellers don’t have to disclose murders, satanic rituals,” Sam Wood, July 24, 2014