Jerry Davich: Has anyone died in your house?
JERRY DAVICH October 24, 2013 11:34PM
Updated: November 26, 2013 6:17AM
The tucked-away two-story house is located on a tree-lined country road in rural Lowell, near the Illinois state line. It’s a beautiful looking home on a spacious lot with luscious landscaping, a two-car garage and another one in the back.
If not for the yellow “CRIME SCENE” police tape draped across the driveway, you’d have no inkling that two decomposed bodies were recently found inside the home.
Last Friday, the home’s owners, 68-year-old Clifford Snow and his 66-year-old wife, Joyce, were found by police, who later named their 34-year-old son, Thomas, as a suspect in the deaths.
When or if the house ever goes on the market, it should draw a lot of potential buyers. But it’s unlikely they will be told by the seller or an agent about the gruesome double homicide taking place inside the home. Why would they disclose such startling information about what could be labeled as a “psychologically impacted” house?
According to Indiana law (code 32-21-6-5), such disclosure is not required: “An owner or agent is not required to disclose to a transferee any knowledge of a psychologically affected property in a real estate transaction.”
Unless, that is, they’re asked. But who asks such morbid questions? I’ve never even thought about this issue.
This is the premise, in part, behind a new company and website, DiedInHouse.com, which cross-references public records and other databases to unearth information if someone died in a house. The site can inform potential home buyers about untidy details they wouldn’t otherwise learn from the seller, charging $11.95 for a single search and discounts for multiple searches.
“I am informing consumers,” explained Roy Condrey, company president and founder, who once found out that someone died in a house he had purchased. “I assumed it was part of the disclosure process but found out it was not.”
Most states, including Indiana, do not have laws to disclose a death occurrence in a property, regardless how it occurred, including homicide, suicide, accident or illness. Condrey, a South Carolina resident, discovered there is not a clearinghouse of sorts for such research, and it’s very time consuming to do so. A light bulb went off in his head.
“Death in a home, especially a violent death and suicide, leaves a stigma that many people including myself would not be comfortable living with,” he told me.
“You have to disclose the age of the roof or a water leak when you sell your home, but those defects can be fixed and removed forever,” he noted. “You cannot remove the stigma on the lot, even after the home has been destroyed. The stigma sticks.”
Condrey equates using his site with running a CarFax report before buying a vehicle.
“It’s to be as informed as possible,” he said. “The same goes when you run a BackgroundChecks.com report before you hire a nanny or rent out your house. Now you can run a DiedInHouse.com report before you buy or rent a home.”
Each report includes any public records stating there was a death at the selected address, as well as a list of previous residents and a free follow-up report within 30 days of purchase.
Here is a sample report for a house located at 1216 Judson Ave. in Evanston, Ill.
“The house where a 94-year-old women lived alone. Her neighbors were trying to persuade her to move into a nursing home. When police came to visit her, they discovered she had been living with the bodies of her three siblings: A sister that died in the 1970s; a brother that died in 2003; and another sister that died in 2008. The remains were found in different parts of the two-story, Victorian-style home and some were covered with blankets. It was determined they all died of natural causes.
“Ask your agent, seller or landlord for a Diedinhouse.com report before you sign a lease or offer letter,” the report concluded.
This full disclosure topic is very touchy with real estate agents. But several local agents echoed the same refrain: A seller’s agent will not voluntarily offer such sensitive information to prospective buyers, but they should disclose it if asked. In Indiana, no legal action can be taken against an agent for not doing so.
“However, an owner or agent may not intentionally misrepresent a fact concerning a psychologically affected property in response to a direct inquiry from a transferee,” Indiana Code states.
According to Condrey, only three states have laws requiring disclosure of such events within one to three years of the purchase date. Another 15 states have a law requiring disclosure only if the buyer asks, and the remaining states have no law, therefore no legal action can be taken against the seller or agent for not disclosing.
“A death in a home can impact its value and time to sell,” Condrey’s site states. “You also may not want to invest your money in a home that had a death because it could possibly decrease its value and make it harder to resell.”
With Halloween lurking around the corner, DiedInHouse.com has recently received a graveyard full of media reports, stories and features.
The site smartly cites Hollywood horror movies based on similar scenarios — “The Amityville Horror,” “The Exorcist” and “The Conjuring” — as reasons to consider its unique service. As well as real-life examples of mass killings inside infamous homes, such as John Wayne Gacy Jr.’s high-profile murders.
Then again, the site gives several disclaimers of service, including, “We do not have or claim to have all of the records. We also do not guarantee the accuracy of the data.”
In other words, the same word of warning for prospective homebuyers also goes for this site’s prospective users: Caveat emptor, let the buyer beware.
For more on this topic, listen to Jerry’s “Casual Fridays” radio show today at noon on WLPR, 89.1-FM, streaming at www.thelakeshorepublicmedia.org.