How to Find Out if Someone Died in the House You're Buying

A death can be a deal-breaker for some buyers

Couple looking shocked while reading a house contract
••• imtmphoto / Getty Images

When you begin the process of buying a home, the issue of whether the seller or anyone else has died in the house may not be the first thing on your mind—unless this sort of thing would really bother you or someone mentions to you that it might have occurred. A death in the house is a deal-breaker for some prospective buyers.

So how do you find out for sure if someone died in the house you're trying to buy? It's actually easier than you might think. In terms of how it might impact the deal, well, that might depend on your negotiating skills.

Know What Bothers You

Homes that have been the site of a death are said to have "psychological" damage, but many homebuyers say the extent to which it would bother them depends on how the death occurred. Some types of death carry stronger messages and are more horrifying to picture than the demise of a bedridden elderly seller who succumbed to a predictable end.

The odds that someone died in your would-be home depend on its age. Buyers of Victorian properties should realize that many people were born at home and died at home quite frequently in the early 1900s. It's possible, if not likely, that a death might have occurred in the house over the years. Does it matter if it happened 150 years ago or do only recent deaths bother you?

Understand State Laws About Disclosure

You can start by asking your buyer's agent, but you might just receive an assurance that most listing agents will note information such as this in the agent comments of the multiple listings service (MLS) listing. It's unlikely that the property has been the scene of a death if there's no notation.

But "most" listing agents aren't necessarily "all." Some agents might not want to be quite so forthcoming and influence a potential sale. Not all states require these seller disclosures. But in other states, such as California, a death that occurred within the past three years is considered a material fact and must be disclosed. And some selling agents will go the extra mile, disclosing deaths that occurred even outside the prescribed window of time simply because it's a material consideration for many buyers.

Find a real estate agent to ask or check with a real estate lawyer to determine the laws in your state.

Keep in mind that some classes are protected, such as sellers who have died from AIDS. Sellers should disclose the death if it happened within three years in California, but the cause of death is confidential if it was due to AIDS.

Use the Internet

There's at least one reliable website out there, DiedinHouse.com, that will check the address for you for a reasonable fee. The site will search over 130 million records for you, including homes in all 50 states.

But if you don't want to spend the money, you might try asking neighbors or checking the home's title, which should give you a full list of anyone who has ever owned the property. You can then check the list against public records.

How a Death Can Affect Home Price

It's estimated that a non-natural death can drop a home's market value by as much as 25%. For example, one stigmatized home located in the Curtis Park neighborhood of Sacramento, languished on the market for months after a man kicked in the back door and brutally beat an 82-year-old woman. Potential home buyers were concerned that the location of the home, which backed up to an abandoned railroad yard, was unsafe. Even though the seller survived the attack, she no longer wanted to live there, and neither did anybody else. The property eventually sold for thousands less than market value.

Occasionally, a high-profile death may have the opposite effect. The JonBenét Ramsey house in Boulder, Colorado, is a good example. This was the home where a 6-year-old girl was strangled and bludgeoned, her body left lifeless in the basement. When the property was first listed for sale, it was acquired by a group of investors for $650,000. But it sold again shortly thereafter to the daughter of TV evangelist Robert Schuller for more than a million dollars.

The first buyers even changed the number of the house address. That tactic didn't help the second buyer, however. She eventually deserted the home because of the constant traffic caused by tourists and gawkers—something that should be a consideration if a celebrity was involved. It might not all be about an intolerance for ghosts.

Ultimately, the impact comes down how it affects you as a buyer. If the scenario around a death disturbs you enough, then no amount of price reduction will probably get it out of your mind when you are living in the home. Do your research and know your own limits before you buy.

Article Sources

  1. Nolo. "Selling My House: Do I Have to Disclose a Previous Death Here?" Accessed April 21, 2020.

  2. U.S. Department of Justice. "Protecting the Rights of Persons Living With HIV/AIDS." Accessed April 21, 2020.

  3. DiedInHouse.com. "FAQ." Accessed April 21, 2020.

  4. Realtor.com. "Inside the Infamous Home of JonBenet Ramsey." Accessed April 21, 2020.