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What realtors must disclose about a home’s dark past

(The Center Square) – Deaths and even stigmas like reported hauntings of properties are subjective incidents. This means not every buyer is going to walk, or run away, from such a house and there’s no law in Illinois that it must be disclosed with one exception.

Illinois Realtors and their sellers typically are not required to disclose a death that occurred in a home up for sale. But that doesn’t mean buyers can’t raise the question, even interview neighbors, and run Google address searches if need be.

A murder tends to be a much-publicized event that will pop up without much digging. Suicides, on the other hand, seldom get coverage.

Under the state’s Real Estate License Act, whether a death must be revealed depends on whether the incident caused physical damage to the property, like bullet holes or perhaps a corpse embedded in the wall.

Betsy Urbance, Illinois Realtors general counsel and vice president of Legal Services, told The Center Square why the law doesn’t demand disclosure in most cases.

“Stigmas are very subjective. What one person might find to be a stigma to property, another person, it might not bother them,” she said. “If it’s strictly a fact situation, no legal duty” to disclose.

With the corpse stuck in a wall, a buyer can clearly argue there’s a defective condition, she said.

Regardless of whether there’s damage to the home, Realtors must be honest and may recommend the seller get ahead of neighborhood gossip and opt for disclosure.

“There’s no exception to the neighbors always tell rule,” she said of neighbors eager to divulge gory details.

Today’s buyer doesn’t ask about deaths more often, she said, but this is a question she’s fielded repeatedly in her 30 years of experience, even when it’s not Halloween.

“We’ve gotten the ghost question, and you know, whether you’re a believer or not, if there is no damage to the physical property, then that would fall into the stigma category,” she said.

One strategy she said may be reducing the purchase price if it seems a potential buyer is about to bolt.

However since the Realtor represents the seller, disclosure as well as pricing are both issues to be decided after a frank conversation between the two.

“If your seller’s onboard, try to make that disclosure, not as a legal matter, but as a practical matter,” she said.

If there’s been a murder or other grisly occurrence, the full truth may end up reducing the home’s asking price, but she said, “it’s going to be cheaper than the litigation afterward when the neighbors bring over the brownies and tell the sordid story.”

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