Shopping for a home? Ask if it was ever a murder scene

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Shopping for a home? Ask if it was ever a murder scene

When buying a home, location, size and even the coat of paint on the walls might sway you, but one thing that doesn't instantly come to mind is if the home was once a murder scene.

It can be a dealbreaker for some, but as crucial as that information might seem, Raymond Leclair, lawyer and vice president of public affairs at LawPro, says there's no legal obligation for a homeowner to tell potential buyers about any murders or suicides that might have taken place at the property. 

"From the vendor's point of view, as long as it doesn't affect safety or security, there's really no obligation to divulge," Leclair said. "In fact, there's probably an incentive for them not to because, assuming that there is a stigma, that would affect the price, probably negatively."

He adds that real estate agents also have no legal obligation to provide that information, but are bound by a professional code of conduct that might fine them if they don't disclose certain deaths to potential buyers. 

Monika Merinat, a real estate broker at Royal LePage, says she has sold homes that were once connected to murder investigations and says she had to disclose deaths in homes she was selling to clients.

"Walls have their secrets. Anything could have happened in a house or condo," she said. "You never know if someone has been tortured in this house. If someone was very unhappy — fighting, divorce, broken plates, whatever. That, you never know, but death, we have to reveal."

Emotional impact on buyers

If you're hoping to score a bargain going for a home that was once the scene of a murder or suicide, you might be disappointed.

Sylvia Santarelli of ReMax Hallmark Realty says that might not have much of an effect on how much a home might cost, but could have more of an emotional impact on buyers. However, that might see fewer people bidding on those homes, which could affect value.

But in downtown Toronto she says people aren't bothered much by homes that have seen unnatural deaths.

"They don't mind if there's a suicide. Murder is a different story especially now there's so many of them in the news," she said. "That will affect value in the sense of there might be less people bidding on the homes."

For particularly notorious murders, she says homes might stay on the market longer and might have to be demolished. 

"Paul Bernardo's home was probably the most famous one that Canada has gone through," she said. "They had to demolish that house. Nobody would have ever bought that house — not with the notoriety of the murder." 

While there's no law against not disclosing murders or suicides to potential buyers, Merinat says it wouldn't make much sense for real estate brokers to even try since the buyers would likely soon find out the home's history from neighbours. 

"It would be really foolish to sell a house or make a transaction and then the buyer discovers from the neighbours that there was a murder or suicide in the house and can sue you if they cannot accept that, so there's no question, you have to reveal it." 

Still, Leclair suggests buyers should let their agent know that they don't want a property that was once a crime scene to be on the safe side.

"You're very much left to the common law principle of buyer beware, so it falls to the buyer to ask the questions that they should to make sure they understand what they're buying."