Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Real Estate Disclosures

I read an article this week about a California woman who moved to Pennsylvania with her two daughters to be closer to her family after her husband had died. She purchased a house, and a few weeks after they had moved in she found out from a neighbor that there had been a murder-suicide in her master bedroom the previous year. She claims that there is no way she would have bought the house having known that, and she is appealing to the state supreme court to get the sale rescinded and her money back, after both the regular court and the appeals court ruled against her.

Here’s the timeline:
February 2006 – Man shoots his wife and then himself in the home
October 2006 – Couple buys the tainted house, knowing about the deaths, for $450,000.
June 2007 – California lady buys the house from the couple, without the deaths being disclosed to her, for $610,000.

She and her lawyer, who are suing the sellers and their real estate agents, maintain that sellers should be required to disclose troubling events "at least for some period of time."

I am sure, given her situation, that she would not have purchased the house if she had known the gory details of its recent past. It is an unfortunate situation for her, but I’m going to have to side with the two court opinions on this one. The logical side of me can’t make an exception in any case, no matter how troubling the event may be. If "troubling events" need to be disclosed, where does that end. How troubling is “troubling,” and how long is “some period of time?”

“Troubling” is completely subjective. I have friends who would hold a four-day candlelight vigil to mourn the loss of a goldfish, and I have other friends who would buy the house and volunteer to help clean up the bodies if it meant a lower purchase price. Pennsylvania may be holding firm, but I live in California, the land of regulations. What if I want to sell my house?

Since I’ve owned it, no one has died in the house, so I might be in the clear, but how far will California take it. I mean, I’ve had relatives die while I owned the house, and I was in the house when I found out, and it was very troubling for me. Does that count?

Our three-year-old son broke his leg in this house. Do we need to disclose that? I can assure you, it was a very troubling event, both for him and his mom!

What if no one died, but 37 family pets met their demise on the property? Still noteworthy? What if no person or animal ever died in the house, but it was used for a nefarious purpose, like slave trafficking, or drug dealing, or headquarters for the Russian mob’s door-to-door candy and magazine subscription sales?

Where will it end once it starts? “The buyer of this real property, commonly known as 123 Main Street, located on Lot 34-A of the Peterson Tract of the Sunshine Estates Subdivision, as shown on Placer County plat map number 882, shall be hereby officially notified that on or about the date of 3 November, 1986, one William “Billy” Johnson, aged eight years old at the time, had his feelings severely hurt in or near the living room.”

Believe me, in California, the slope on that argument is not that slippery. My natural skepticism combined with my logical mind leads me to believe there is more to this story. If she doesn’t like the house any more, she should sell it. One of my favorite old sayings when trying to get to the bottom of a convoluted mess is “follow the money.” That is helpful advice in most mysteries, including this one. Let’s look again at the timeline of the sales:

October 2006 – House sells to couple for $450,000
June 2007 – Couple re-sells house to lady from California for $610,000

So, in the span of eight months the house gained $160,000 in value? I don’t know anything about the Pennsylvania real estate market, but I know that gains of $20,000 per month in value are the stuff of magical dot com stocks, not real estate. I do know a little about the California real estate market, and $610,000 for the relatively modest house I saw pictured in the article seems high even by our inflated west coast standards. The first sale price of $450,000 even seems high.

Again, I’m sure she wouldn’t have bought the house had she known about its creepy history, but let’s be serious. She moved from California, land of overpriced housing, and blindly paid California prices for a Pennsylvania house. Two weeks later, she found out about the murders. My guess is, at that same time, she also found out about the last purchase price. Like I said, if you don’t like it, sell it. And if you can’t sell it for what you paid for it two weeks later, you paid too much.

I like old sayings. I always figured if a saying wasn’t useful or worth its weight, it wouldn’t be an old saying. One of my other favorite old sayings is, “buyer beware.” It is not practical to operate under the rule that the seller of anything is responsible for how the buyer will feel about their purchase. Especially things with a price tag as high as a house.

You should not be finding out about the murders or the home’s actual value two weeks after you buy it. You should be finding out two weeks BEFORE you buy it. Or in her case, before you don’t buy it.

The internet exists everywhere. Even in Pennsylvania. Use it!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen

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