Why Would You Want to Know this Morbid Info?
A death in a home immediately impacts the family of the fallen, but it will continue to make an impact; for many, death within a house can be a non-negotiable aspect, while to others, it's a worthwhile gamble.
Further, a homeowner may seek out a particular house for many reasons, including its media connections. For example, famous homes featured on television are crushed under iconography from their franchises.
At the same time, the general homeowner is likely not looking at media homes. Instead, they are more likely to look at the property's worth; most deaths will bring down a house's value, and the ones that don't are typically heinous in nature.
At the same time, another prospective homeowner may reject the home specifically because of the death. This can be due to religious or paranormal beliefs or superstitions. Getting the information can be relatively easy in most cases, regardless of why you want to know.
Ask the Real Estate Agent or Homeowner
Thanks to big-screen entertainment, it’s commonly argued if a prospective homeowner asks about deaths, the realtor must answer truthfully. This is true, but there are additional aspects to keep in mind.
First and foremost, real estate agents must adhere to this rule or be subject to a court of law. Therefore, there’s little reason to expect the agent to lie about the house’s status. However, the other side of the argument is that it falls on the future homeowner to ask about it. The only time it does not fall on the prospective homeowner is in California, Alaska, and South Dakota.
Deaths that occur in houses in these states may be directly disclosed upfront. In the case of Alaska and South Dakota, a licensed professional agent will disclose the death if it was a murder or suicide within the last year. The agent would disclose the death in California if it happened within the last three years.
Don’t be fooled by these direct disclosures; a prospective homeowner can ask if any deaths occurred in the home—and the agent will have to tell you.
Search the Home’s Address Online
Another option you have is to look up the home online. Entering the address of the house into a generic search engine is one way to go about it. However, the only results likely to show up are the recent listings and any heinous acts done on the property recently. Further, relying on a search engine will not yield any death disclosures because those are locked behind paywalls.
A paywall is a stopping mechanism built into a website. It stops information, items, and other stuff from being accessed until its fee is fulfilled. It's a common feature of news websites and some luxury online stores. Paywalls are also commonly used by database websites. These websites act as a lookup tool; you enter information like an address to receive all vital public records.
Ask the Neighbors
If the internet isn’t your cup of tea, you could always do some footwork. You aren’t trying to walk up someone’s sidewalk and knock on their door—some people can take it poorly. Instead, wait until they do something outside that is not time sensitive. Walking up to and speaking with Denise in her garden on a Saturday is acceptable; going to the park and chatting with homeowners there would be better.
This is because no one is approaching anyone else, and no one can take it aggressively or righteously. It's also an excellent way to learn more about the community and meet new people. However, remember that some neighbors may be happy to share misinformation they've learned from secondary or third sources. For this reason, always verify the information given to you by strangers.
Another option you have is to go to any of the local events or gatherings. Some small areas host churches of many denominations; if you’re comfortable being in that environment, gossip is a common practice.
Search Vital Records Online
Let’s say you don’t know that someone has died in the house, but you’ve found evidence that made you question it. In situations like this, you may be able to look up more information online. Vital records databases are available online; using them is as easy as a generic search (plus a paywall). Vital records are any government-interested documents, including:
- Birth and death certificates
- Marriage, separation, and divorce agreements
- Civil and common-law unions, domestic partnerships
Vital records are instrumental if you have a name or event in mind when you search for them. These are also very useful if you want to get involved with the legal system. After all, if you ask the real estate agent for the information and lie to you, they'll face legal consequences.
Search Newspaper Archives
Depending on when the death occurred, there may be a record of it in a newspaper archive. Many libraries will house old newspapers physically, but as with anything, it may be worth it to look online. Modernized libraries in large cities can likely provide newspaper scans online (for a fee—paywall).
Finding old newspapers in smaller cities may still be possible, but you may have to go there physically. Further, libraries aren’t the only institution to look at; check out the local academic scene to get localized insight. Certain universities are world-renown for their Special Collections—so if there’s a university in your town, consider speaking to them.
If you suspect someone has died in your house, it’s better to check than to wonder. The above options are only some ways you can find this information; in some cases, additional sleuthing may be required.
Alternatively, if you’ve not bought the house yet, but are interested—speak with your real estate agent. They will likely disclose everything to you, but you’ll need to ask for it to be possible.