Sellers don't have to disclose deaths, crimes in homes in Arizona

Posted 9/25/19

A couple came from the United Kingdom to Arizona to continue their life of marriage, settling on a home in Fountain Hills earlier this year.

That home …

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Sellers don't have to disclose deaths, crimes in homes in Arizona

Posted

A couple came from the United Kingdom to Arizona to continue their life of marriage, settling on a home in Fountain Hills earlier this year.

That home was the site of a double murder, part of a six-death murder spree in the Scottsdale area back in mid-2018.

But did this couple know — before buying — that those deaths had occurred at the home last year?

Turns out, they did not. The husband of the couple, who did not wish for his name and address to be revealed, told Daily Independent that he assumed sellers in Arizona had to report crimes and deaths, so when they didn’t hear about anything, they thought nothing had happened. However, he said they had thought the previous owners had died because the house was being sold by relatives.

But in Arizona, disclosing a death at a home is not required.

According to Arizona Revised Statutes 32-2156, a real estate agent — or any seller — doesn’t have to disclose that a property was the site of a natural death, suicide, homicide or any other crime classified as a felony.

“We only found out about the murders of Brian & Mary from our neighbour and then realised that Arizona is one of only 3 states with this law,” the Fountain Hills man said via Facebook Messenger. “After fully understanding the events that occurred we have accepted that it was not a random event and as the perpetrator is dead we feel safe that our home is not a target and we are happy living here.”

Like he said, Arizona is among the states that don’t require any disclosure on the part of the seller. In a state like California, sellers must disclose any death if it occurred within the last three years.

Laws like this help get around the issue of a “stigmatized” house, which is one that can bring about psychological or emotional triggers to a prospective homebuyer.

For example, a highly publicized murder or suicide is considered an event that could stigmatize the property. Like physical damage — water damage, lead paint — this is seen as something that could affect the home’s value.

In Peoria, a home in the 7300 block of West Montgomery Road was the site of a homicide in February. The home recently sold for $325,000, according to Maricopa County Tax Assessor Records.

Unless the buyer inquired with the selling agent or did his own digging, he likely didn’t know a murder had occurred there.

Daily Independent reached out to the listing and selling agents about this home, but haven’t heard back from them.

“If it’s a violent death, it becomes a marked property that people don’t necessarily want to become associated with,” Jason Wells, attorney, Realtor and partner of Wells Law Group in Phoenix, said in a realtor.com article.

But in Arizona, those superstitious homebuyers need to do their due diligence in making sure all of their questions are answered.

“Personally, it does not scare me or make me apprehensive to sell a property or represent a client where the property has that sort of a history,” Mr. Wells told Daily Independent. “When representing a client who either owns and wants to sell or wants to purchase a home with a questionable history, there is no reason to change anything from a marketing and legal perspective.”

However, he said that it is still important to have discussions with clients to understand that even if he doesn’t disclose certain information, they might find out from a neighbor.

“Because there is no obligation under Arizona law to disclose facts like a death or a crime, the timing of the disclosure and the way the disclosure is made is important,” Mr. Wells said. “If I were to make it a big deal, then the agent and ultimately their client are going to think it is a big deal. However, if I am just passing along information, then it becomes something not to worry about. Typically what I will say at some point [sic] is, ‘Hey, it isn’t a big deal here but in case it matters to your client, you should know there was…’ and then tell them whatever it was that happened.”

However, sellers are not completely off the hook in states like Arizona. If a buyer asks whether a death occurred in the home, sellers must either answer truthfully or refrain from answering. If not, they risk legal repercussions.

Such was the case in 2014, when a seller told a prospective buyer that she and her children were moving to be closer to friends. However, the court learned the seller was actually trying to move away from the sex offender next door.

The Court of Appeals determined although sellers have no obligation to disclose, they can’t lie about their reasons.

So either tell the truth, or say nothing at all.

“If you aren’t upfront with a buyer early on, you also run the risk that the buyers may pull out of the agreement because they mistrust you — and assume that you’re hiding other things about the property,” realtor.com stated.

Katie Walsh, a Realtor at The Walsh Team, advises buyers to Google the address of the home they’re interested in. That might return news stories discussing a crime or murder in the home.

However, keep in mind that very few — if any — news outlets in Arizona publish the full address of the site of a crime. Daily Independent usually only provides the major cross streets near the scene of a crime. In some cases, like for sex offenders moving into homes, Daily Independent will publish a general address like the “1000 block of Independent Street.”

Ms. Walsh said she has taken on a listing where someone died at the home. To her, things like that don’t scare her.

“We have to really take our emotions out of the transaction, and just focus on the financial net gain for our seller,” Ms. Walsh stated in an email. “I wouldn’t take a listing that still looked like a crime scene if you know what I mean.

“Otherwise, it’s just a part of the business. The seller would have to give us permission to disclose any crime or death. It wouldn’t be up to me, even if I was for whatever reason compelled to disclose.”

Mr. Wells said if a house is being sold because the owner died, he will only tell the buyer that the owner passed away.

“In representing a buyer I have not had a case where the client wanted me to ask about death or crimes,” Mr. Wells said. “I sometimes ask the listing agent, ‘Is there anything we should know about the property or its history? Like, something you would want to know if you were buying?’ That gets some odd and unexpected answers, but I would only pursue knowing specifics if my client had made it known to me it was something they believed knowing would be very important to them.”

As for the couple in Fountain Hills, they are looking forward to the future.

“We hope that over time we can help heal the wounds inflicted on this very friendly part of Fountain Hills by just being good neighbours and becoming part of the community,” the Fountain Hills man said.

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