Can a property’s past haunt its future?

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COLUMBUS, Ga. – It makes for a thrilling Halloween story line, an unsuspecting buyer purchases a home only to find out they’ve purchased an undesirable history with it. In real life, it does happen. But in such cases, what are the buyer’s rights? What is the seller obligated to tell?

The yellow tape, the crime scene unit, a swarm of police officers, images not easily forgotten, but how long do these memories last once the evidence is gathered and the detectives drive away?

A home in an upscale neighborhood, was the scene of the unspeakable tragedy close to a couple of years ago when several members of one family were murdered here. Now this home today, unoccupied.

In fact, the bank foreclosed on it and no one has lived here since the murders. So how long can a home’s history haunt it?

“Sometimes it can make a monetary difference to the price of the house, depending on what happened there and how well broadcast it was, and long ago it was,” says Julie Owen.

Julie Owen is a realtor with First Realty of LaGrange. Greg Loyd sat down with her and asked her define what makes a home stigmatized.

“Any property where there has been possibly a murder, a death by natural causes, suicide, and even properties where someone has been sickened by a possibly communicable disease,” says Owen.

What exactly are a buyer’s rights when it comes to knowing these aspects of a home’s history?

“They do not have to be disclosed unless it is a disease that someone could catch from living in the home that sick person has previously lived in,” says Owen.

Real estate disclosure laws vary by state. In Georgia, sellers do not have to disclose a house’s history unless directly asked by buyers. They do, however, have to disclose any structural flaws that could impact the value of the home.

“If the roof is good, the heating and air unit, if there’s a physical problem with the house you are aware of, you have to disclose that,” says Owen.

Across the Chattahoochee, Alabama’s disclosure laws are very similar. Alabama is a buyer-beware state when it comes to stigmatized properties.

“Everybody’s got one in just about every single town,” says Billy Sims.

Phenix City Board of Realtors President Billy Sims, II is a an expert when it comes to Alabama’s real estate law.

“Basically, they have a due diligence period. So for the first, on average, I’d say 10-15 days, the buyer can do any kind of inspections they want. They can research the property. They can do anything that they want to with that actual property,” says Sims.

Over the years, he says he’s handled two specific transactions that stick out to him that dealt with stigmatized properties.

“But in those two scenarios, one was a suicide house, and then the other one was a murder-suicide in the house. The house was actually in Phenix City. I did disclose that to the people. One bought, and one decided not to buy,” says Sims.

Sims says he believes disclosure is always best, even though not always required, to avoid controversy if a unknowing buyer later finding out from neighbors and being upset.

In both Georgia and Alabama, once a real estate deal closes, the law sides with the seller. The buyer is not able to get any money back nor void the transaction because of property’s history.

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