Is there anybody (dead) in here?

Real Estate (really)
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  October 24, 2012

Because I'm in the process of buying a farmhouse built in 1784, which I know contains centuries of stories and memories, I've had reason recently to contemplate ghosts. Namely, how to figure out if the house I'm buying is haunted. I've never felt spooky there, but hey, I watch a lot of horror movies. I wondered, could I find out if someone had died in the house? That often seems to be a starting place for paranormal behavior.

"There is no particular law requiring disclosure of a death in a property," says Linda Gifford, legal counsel to the Maine Association of Realtors. "The law . . . is that [the sellers] disclose material defects in the physical condition of the property. A death occurring at the property would not constitute a material defect unless a physical condition of the property caused it, such as a fire."

Which makes sense. Death isn't exactly a selling point. "A death at a property is an example of a 'stigmatized property' condition, and in Maine, that does not need to be disclosed by the seller's agent," Gifford adds.

As for the buyer's agent, who represents the person purchasing the home, he or she is required to "disclose everything they know or think they know regarding a property that may have impact on the buyer's decision to buy," Gifford says. "So if the buyer's agent knows there has been a death at the property, they should tell their . . . client, and let the . . . client decide if it is important to them. They would not need to investigate and discover the death, but if they know about it they should disclose it.

"If a buyer has a particular interest in whether or not there has been a death at a property, they should tell their buyer agent who can help them find a way to investigate the issue. Records at a town office may include death records although that may not be consistent from town to town," she says.

Before I Nancy-Drew-ed myself over to the town clerk, I decided to talk about it with my buyer agent. Was this a common request? In general, she told me, "it's never really brought up." But that doesn't mean it's not considered. "I personally can tell if it's a good home or a bad home, if there was violence there, unhappiness, or deaths," she said.

She calls it her sixth sense, and that's good enough for me. She has good vibes about our new house, and that's about as superstitious as I want to get.

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