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When I Sell My House, Do I Need to Disclose a Death by Suicide if The Suicide Occurred 10 Years Ago?

By David Blockhus on 3.24.10

I new listing came on the market recently in South Los Altos that has a bit of a history.  Several years back (and several owners back), a fairly graphic suicide occurred in the home.  Is a seller and/or his/her agent required to disclose that a death by suicide occurred in a house when the suicide occurred over 10 years ago?

Disclosure:  I am not an attorney nor do I play one on T.V.  Readers who require specific advice about their individual situation should consult a qualified attorney.  Nufff said.

California Civil Code Section (CCCS) 1710.2 basically states that a death on a property must be disclosed if it occurred within three years of an offer on the property.  According to CCCS 1710.2, a 10-year-old suicide need not be disclosed to a potential buyer.  Therefore, legally a seller doesn’t have to disclose the death if it occurred after the three-year time frame.  However, it may be a material issue for some buyers.

Real estate disclosure law also stipulates that a seller and his/her agent must disclose any fact of which they have knowledge that could be material to a buyer’s decision to purchase the property.  Facts about the property are considered material if their disclosure would affect the value or desirability of the property.  Is a death by suicide a material fact that affects the value or desirability of a property?  It could be.

For some buyers, a death by suicide (no matter how long ago) is a material fact and they would want to know about and would likely not want to purchase the home.  For others, it doesn’t matter.  How does the seller and/or agent determine who has issues with death by suicide versus those who don’t?  Can you rely on the buyer’s agent to ask a direct question about the subject?  Maybe, maybe not.  Note: if you have concerns about a death on the property, make sure your agent specifically asks the listing agent the question.  I suggest asking the question via e-mail so you have a record of the discussion.

What I have found in almost 18 years in selling homes locally is that most sellers don’t want to talk about it much less disclose it.  They correctly cling to the fact that CCCS 1710.2 places a 3 year cap on such disclosure.  They also know if a suicide is disclosed, regardless of time frame, the home is likely to sell for less.

Legally they are correct, but just try telling a buyer who has these concerns and who just closed on such a home that legally the seller does not have to disclose the suicide because it occurred outside the “legally mandated time window.”

What would you do?

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  1. Mary Pope-Handy

    Dave I agree with you. “When in doubt, disclose.” This is so important because the #1 cause of lawsuits is non-disclosure by seller to buyer. Many real estate attorneys would say, “if you have to ask your self, ‘should I disclose it?’, then you probably should.” Sellers often want to avoid saying anything unpleasant but it’s much, much worse to be quiet now and get sued later.

  2. Casey Buchter

    I am an attorney, but am retired and don’t practice in this area. But I can read a statute, and your statement of what section 1710.2 says is the exact oppositre of what it says. It says a death need not be disclosed if it occurred more than three years prior to the offer to purchase. If less than three years, the issue of material fact disclosure would apply. Aids = no disclosure needed, no time limit applies

  3. Dave Blockhus, Los Altos CA Real Estate Specialist, Coldwell Banker

    Casey, Thank you for your comment. I think we both agree that Section 1710.2 reads that a death need not be disclosed if it occurred more than three years prior to the offer to purchase and if the death is less than three years, the issue of material fact disclosure applies. The point that I was trying to raise was that the issue of material fact may or may not have a time limit. If a buyer has a fear or cultural belief about a death on a property, usually there isn’t a time frame associated with this fear/belief. Overall, I think that anything that a reasonable person might believe would negatively affect the value of a property should be disclosed. But again, I am not an attorney and recommend that any home seller in this situation should seek legal counsel from someone experienced in this type of law before they begin to market their property.

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