If your house is a regular gathering place for poltergeists, specters and the odd dybbuk or two, then you may want to keep that information to yourself when it comes time to sell.
In a similar vein, you may not want to tout the traveling salesman’s accidental death in the living room, the wake held around your grandmother’s coffin in the dining room, or your neighbor’s intentional drug overdose in the second bedroom.
And the family pets buried in the backyard? Probably want to remove those cute little headstones before the realtor makes that first visit.
What Are You Required to Disclose?
In Texas you do not have to disclose or release information about any number of unseemly occurrences when you sell real property. These are all spelled out in the Texas Property Code Section 5.008, which helpfully enumerates specific types of deaths that don’t have to be disclosed.
Somebody dies by natural causes on the property? Mum’s the word.
Death by suicide? You have no obligation to volunteer the information.
Death by accident? If the accident was not related to the condition of the property, then you can keep quiet. On the other hand, if your family room ceiling beam falls on a guest who then dies, you would have to disclose it.
Murder, noticeably, is not on the list. The working presumption in the real estate industry is that a seller does have to disclose if a murder occurred on the property, even if that murder occurred on a previous owner’s watch.
What if the deceased is still on the property when it comes time to sell? Then the treatment is a bit different. If you buried the person in your backyard, you probably have a duty to disclose that, although it is not specifically listed on the statutory disclosure form. On a related note, if you legally designated a portion of your property as a graveyard, you need to let the buyer know before the property sale closes.
The duty to disclose pet burials is murky. Buyers who may not quibble over a hamster corpse might be upset if they later come across the skeletal remains of a donkey.
What are you obligated to tell a buyer if you know your property is really, truly, séance-proven, riddled with ghosts? That is an unsettled question in Texas. Nationally, the leading case holding that a seller has a duty to disclose supernatural occurrences is out of the State of New York and included a finding that the seller’s house was, indeed, haunted. You can give it whatever weight you want.
3 additional points to consider:
First, it matters what role you, the seller, have in the transaction. The statutory obligation, Section 5.008 Seller’s Disclosure of Property Condition, does not apply to an executor, trustee or guardian who sells the property. That is not a complete defense, because there may be another obligation to disclose that pops up somewhere in the transaction, but it is certainly a starting point.
Second, sellers regularly get sued by buyers for not disclosing something that negatively impacts the value, use or resale of the property. The buyer may not win, but do you really want to deal with a lawsuit that could have been avoided by making a simple disclosure?
Third, realize that the buyer is going to find out sometime. Websites, neighbors, the internet – it’s hard to keep things secret.
The takeaway is to put away your Ouija board before listing the family home.
Hammerle Finley Can Help
Are you looking for legal assistance? Schedule a consultation with one of the experienced attorneys at Hammerle Finley to discuss your options.
Virginia Hammerle is in her fourth decade of practicing law. She is Board Certified in Civil Trial by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and an Accredited Estate Planner. Contact her at email@example.com or visit www.hammerle.com. This column does not constitute legal advice.