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When you think you’ve found your dream house, you won’t necessarily have all the information about it you want. For instance, is it haunted? Or, has somebody ever died in it?
I grew up in a house built in 1810. Like most old houses, it creaked in the night, was impossible to move around silently, and revealed creepy secrets from time to time, like when my father unearthed a wooden toy boat from the basement rubble that looked like it had been there for a century.
It also had ghosts, or something similar. I’m no supernatural expert but I saw enough translucent hands and strangers sitting in corners to convince me that something paranormal lived in that house. There was no Amityville Horror situation — they were nice ghosts — but between my occasional sightings and the house’s age, it’s fair to assume people died there.
Not all houses are 200 years old and haunted. You might not see ghosts at the open house, but it’s not unusual to wonder whether someone died in your house or a house you’re thinking about buying. It may be a morbid question, but you’re entitled to as much information as you’d like about your home or potential home. There are resources to determine if someone died in your house and, in this piece, we’ll help you find them and help you understand what it means to live in a house where someone has died.
Should a death in a house impact your home search?
We’ve all seen haunted house movies. Family finds a beautiful house on the market for an inexplicably low price, moves in, things start mysteriously moving themselves, the neighbors steer clear, and then the full-scale haunting happens.
None of that is likely to happen if someone died in your house, but there is a psychological aspect to real estate.
Many people just don’t want to live in a house where someone died or experienced something gruesome. If you’re reading this article, you just might be that type of person. Rest assured, you’re not alone. Whether you’re buying or selling, it’s worth investigating whether or not someone has died in a home.
Stigma is real and it often leads to houses becoming devalued. Depending on the deaths or events that occurred at a house, it could decrease a home’s value by more than 3%.
How to find out if someone died in your house
Finding out if someone died in your house isn’t as simple (or as free) as you might like. Detailed public records — especially for homes built in the pen-and-paper record keeping era — are not always accurate or reliable. Records have been lost in some areas, or were never recorded in the first place.
You can’t always guarantee that you’ll find a complete historical record of every house on the market, but you can take some steps in the right direction.
1. Search the web
The simplest way to find out if someone died in a house is to use DiedInHouse.com. Built to fulfill a very specific need, this site uses data from more than 130 million police records, news reports, and death certificates to determine whether or not someone died at an address you search. While it may be helpful, DiedInHouse does not guarantee to be 100% accurate despite its extensive records. It’s also not free. Each search costs $11.99.
There are very few free tools that offer a similar service to DiedInHouse. HouseCreep.com is one of the only ones and it’s not as prestigious or comprehensive as DiedInHouse. Still, it’s worth trying before you spend money on a search.
2. Read the seller disclosure form
Only three states have death disclosure laws. California requires sellers to disclose deaths that occurred in the house within the past three years, while Alaska and South Dakota require disclosure of any murders or suicide that occurred in the house over the past year.
That said, it’s in the best interest of the seller to tell you the true history of the home. If you find out about an undisclosed death in the home before closing, the deal might fall through. Read over the seller disclosure form to see if anything looks suspicious or like it was purposely left blank. If you feel uneasy, talk to your agent about having a conversation with the seller about the home’s history. Realtors are not required to disclose information about deaths in homes either, but they should be willing to set up a discussion.
3. Ask your neighbors
It might be an awkward introduction to the neighborhood, but if you’re concerned about someone having died in the house, you can always ask the neighbors what they know about the house. If they’ve been in the area for a long time, they may have seen your home pass through multiple owners and be more willing to discuss the home’s history. After all, they don’t stand to gain anything from withholding information from you.
4. Do your own research
Finally, if you haven’t figured out if someone died in a house but you’re still suspicious, it’s time to roll up the sleeves and do some good old fashioned investigating.
For older houses, Census records will give you details about the identity and number of people who previously lived at an address. For privacy reasons, these records are confidential for 72 years so you won’t be able to research a specific address or individual after 1950 unless they’re a direct ancestor. Census records from 1790 to 1940 are available to the public through the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
However, if you’re wondering if someone has died in a home that was built more than 72 years in the past, you can probably just use logic. Someone probably died while living in the house. They may not have died in the house, but given that 20% of people do die in their own homes today, there’s a greater than zero chance.
If you’re more concerned about the manner of death, your local library or historical society archives may prove more useful than census records. Libraries and historical societies tend to keep archives of local newspapers, so you can research news or events around your house and the people who previously lived there. Librarians and historical society members are also good resources who may be able to point you in the right direction.
Many libraries have digitized their news archives, but there’s a chance you’ll have to search by hand or microfilm. It may be time-consuming, but at least you’ll feel like you’re in a horror film set in the 1980s, and what’s not to love about that?
Curiosity is human. But if you want to know if somebody died in your house, you are most likely not legally entitled to that information. To find out, you’ll have to do a little legwork on your own, but if it gives you peace of mind, it’s well worth the effort.