Experts: No Kansas law requires disclosing house was murder scene

08/18/2013 7:15 AM

08/06/2014 2:42 AM

The seller of a Park City home disclosed in a newspaper advertisement that the home was the scene of a 1985 murder by the BTK serial killer.

Real estate experts say that although such a disclosure is not required by Kansas law, it is probably the wise thing to do.

“The motto is always, ‘When in doubt, disclose,’ ” said Sherry Diel, executive director of the Kansas Real Estate Commission, the state agency that licenses and regulates real estate salespeople and brokers.

Although state law requires disclosure of defects or hazards such as groundwater contamination, mold or a cracked basement, no law says you have to divulge that a murder occurred in a house, Diel said. And so far, no court has interpreted the law to define a murder as a home defect, she said.

Still, the fact that someone died violently could be a deal-breaker for some potential buyers.

Diel said she thinks most agents would opt to disclose a murder to avoid a potential lawsuit from a buyer who doesn’t discover the fact until after the sale and claims it affects the home’s value. A buyer who learns after the fact could feel anger or shock. It’s best to share the information up-front, and “then they know going in,” she said.

A murder in a home isn’t the most common occurrence: Wichita has had an average of 26 homicides annually over the past past five years. Suicides and natural deaths in a home are more common.

Suicide is more of a gray area when it comes to whether to disclose the information, Diel said.

“Less people may care about that than a murder, from an emotional standpoint,” she said.

But it depends on the buyer. Some wouldn’t be bothered even by the most brutal murder. Others won’t buy a house that is said to be haunted, while others would laugh at the idea of a haunting, Diel said.

If the question is whether to divulge a natural death, an agent can seek legal advice, she said. Diel, head of the state commission since 2001, said she can’t remember a complaint that someone had not disclosed a natural death occurring in a home.

Trish Voth, a Wichita attorney who deals with real estate issues, said she occasionally is questioned about whether to divulge a natural death.

“It’s subjective,” she said. “Some buyers, it might bother them; some it won’t.”

Still, Voth said, “When in doubt, it’s always safer to disclose.”

A recent Eagle advertisement publicizing the Aug. 27 auction of the Park City house noted it is linked to a murder by the serial killer known as BTK, for “bind, torture, kill.” After his capture in 2005, Dennis Rader told a judge that he sneaked into the home of Marine Hedge, his 53-year-old neighbor on Independence Street, and strangled her.

Jack Newcom, the auctioneer handling the sale, said the seller is disclosing the killing took place in the house to make sure that any buyer has no problem with its past.

“It’s nothing we’re trying to capitalize on, but we’re just trying to do our due diligence,” he previously told The Eagle.

Luke Bell, vice president of governmental affairs with the Kansas Association of Realtors, said a killing in a home might have a psychological impact on some buyers but that there is no evidence it substantially affects market value.

Most states don’t require real estate disclosure of murders, Bell said.

“Are you legally required to disclose it? No. It’s going to depend on what the owner wants to do,” he said.

“A good agent will first ask the client, ‘What do you want me to do with this information?’ ”

The typical litigation over disclosure has nothing to do with a murder, Bell said.

“Generally, it’s dealing with leaky basements,” he said.

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