Do you have to tell the buyer?
Death is a topic that most people don’t want to talk about in general and in real estate, it’s no different. We’ve been asked a few times for details about disclosing death in the state of Texas (more specifically, in San Antonio) when buying and selling a home. Questions such as; “This home seems cheap for this neighborhood, did someone die here?,” “It says ‘estate sale’, does that mean that grandma died in the house?,” or “Do you know how they died?” are common, especially if there’s some indication of death, such as an estate sale. Additionally, we see this question asked on Facebook, in forums, and various places on the internet. A lot of people are looking for the answers and wondering when and why they have to disclose death in regards to real estate in Texas.
Disclosing Death – Texas Property Code
The Texas Property Code covers this in Chapter 5.008(c):
Chapter 5.008(c) A seller or seller’s agent shall have no duty to make a disclosure or release information related to whether a death by natural causes, suicide, or accident unrelated to the condition of the property occurred on the property or whether a previous occupant had, may have had, has, or may have AIDS, HIV related illnesses, or HIV infection.
When a seller (or someone else) dies on or in a property, there is no requirement to disclose – as long as the death is related to natural causes, suicide, or unrelated to the property’s condition (if it is related to the condition of the property, you should be disclosing the defect, regardless of the death). However, the Texas Property Code does not mention homicide (murder), and this becomes a gray area that is often discussed in real estate law circles.
Disclose, disclose, disclose.
It is our opinion that disclosure is the best course of action when it comes to death. We are not attorneys and therefore can only tell sellers and buyers in San Antonio what the Texas Property Code states (and refer them to a real estate attorney who specializes in these issues), but when in doubt – disclose. Disclosure is always best when in doubt, as you’re more likely to land in hot water if you neglect to disclose something than you are if you do.
It’s often the case that you’re better off disclosing death now, before your neighbors do. Neighbors like to talk and tell potential buyers info they know about a home. No one wants to be surprised by the news of a death on the property, so if you disclose it up front, you eliminate that potentially awkward situation when the buyer comes back to you and says “I hear someone died on the property.”
If you’ve experienced a death in your home or on your property and you wish to not disclose the fact to your agent or any potential buyers, I suggest you speak with a qualified real estate attorney beforehand to be sure you don’t run afoul of any laws.
Although, we believe in full disclosure, when it comes to death, the Texas Property Code does not always require it. You should make your own judgments based on legal fact and personal and moral ethics.
photo courtesy of David Paul Ohmer