Should known crimes return to disclosure forms?
We once bought a large family home where a woman shot and killed her husband in front of the living room fireplace.
Should we have been told of the crime before buying?
In the column above, I discussed the evolution of the Seller Disclosure Statement for Improved Property (commonly known as Form 17 in my area) [In Ohio, the form is called the Residential Property Disclosure Form] and how it now only addresses the known condition of the structure and its systems. But to what extent should the property’s known history, or stigma, be included?
Longtime residents of the neighborhood still refer to our former home as “Big John’s House.” The Johnstons down the street occupied “The Bird Lady’s House.” Another family lived in “The Crash House” because so many cars ended up in its driveway after underestimating a steep, downhill turn.
Although Big John and the Bird Lady vacated their respective homes years ago, their reputations and lifestyles could affect the future market value of both residences. That’s why we noted the backgrounds of our homes on Form 17 when we and the other family sold our homes.
In our case, we felt it was mandatory. In those days, the form asked for any known “crimes of violence” on the property, suicide or death from other than natural causes. The Johnstons did so because they did not want to be sued “for having a buzzard’s nest in the attic.” The Bird Lady once permitted birds (and many other flying and crawling creatures) to nest in her house.
According to Form 17, the bird activities did not have to be mentioned by the seller.
And how do you quantify this? Just exactly how much did these experiences hurt the value of the homes?
We did not know Big John had been killed in the house before we bought it. It would not have made a difference in our decision to buy.
Although Form 17 is only an attempt to inform and disclose, there are no more questions about crime and death. They were ruled out before the disclosure statement became state law. “Stigma” was never really stated, even though it’s been an elephant in the room in more than a few residential sales.
There’s a huge movement to identify health hazards resulting from dangerous materials. It’s obviously important to identify and disclose, but the larger problem has been people’s perception of a hazard. Once they perceive something to be a health hazard, they don’t want anything to do with it.
For example, some older homes still have sprayed “popcorn” acoustical ceilings containing “chrysotile,” the most common form of asbestos in residential construction. Asbestos also was used to insulate domestic furnaces and pipes. The important thing to remember is that asbestos fibers become a health problem only when they are disturbed and enter the air.
However, there are some people who would rather not deal with a house that has a popcorn ceiling. It’s not just about the cost to remove it; they simply don’t want to live with the thought of it being in the home.
The same might be said about property that has experienced a crime. Some people would rather not live with any negative “vibe” and choose another house. The question then is, “how are they to know?”
Tom Kelly, former real estate editor for The Seattle Times, is a syndicated columnist and talk-show host.
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