The National Association of Realtors definition of a stigmatized property:
A property that has been psychologically impacted by an event which occurred, or was suspected to have occurred, on the property, such event being one that has no physical impact of any kind..
In Pennsylvania, there is NOT a requirement for sellers to disclose deaths, including suicides and homicides, crimes, paranormal activity etc. The one potential exception being if a home was used as a meth lab. Pennsylvania has no statute that specifically requires disclosure of a former “meth lab” to potential buyers; however, that doesn’t mean there aren’t disclosure issues as sellers are already required to disclose hazardous substances and environmental concerns in their seller disclosure statements.
The legal thinking behind not being required to disclose is that these issues deal with the fears of a potential purchaser not facts about physical characteristics. It’s a tricky area in real estate law, under the PA Real Estate Disclosure Law only Material Defect need to be disclosed. These “events” that can taint a property do not affect the physical condition of the property. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently grappled with this issue in Milliken v. Janoco, a decision that failed to broaden the definition to include “psychological stigmas”.
PA law does say that you must disclose only if asked and the agent must have seller’s permission to disclose. Personally I think that both the seller and the agent have the ethical responsibility to disclose what they know. After all this is Philly and the neighbors can’t wait to tell the buyer everything they know.
So as a buyer, if it’s really important for you to know and if the neighbors aren’t the chatty type (unlikely) you can pay $11.99 to find out. DiedInHouse.com is pretty straightforward. You can search any U.S. address and it will go over records of any deaths (along with cause), names previously associated with the home, reported fire accidents, and even reported meth activity.
Buyers should exercise due diligence in finding information that is available to the public and conduct internet and related data searches. These searches should be a broadly based review of extrinsic and intrinsic factors. Neighborhood crime, schools, climate, construction and zoning patterns and employment prospects are a few examples of influences on community property values. An address specific home inspection as well as a careful study of the property’s history is essential.
I’m all for full disclosure but also take into consideration that plenty of great homes in the Philadelphia area are more than a century old, and one should probably accept the fact that someone probably died within their walls.