Stigmatized properties for sale in MA: Sellers’ disclosures to Buyers according to state law
When Selling a home, a Seller has to abide by rules and guidelines for the benefit of Buyers. Some of these are pertinent to facts that may affect the building, and in turn the transaction, and that the law may or may not require a seller to disclose to Buyers.
Each buyer, has a different sensitivity to the issue and for many it’s not an issue at all. However, the problem of disclosing these events and situations could add uncertainty in a transaction if not clear and have the potential for a headache or legal nightmare.
There are already so many hurdles, like inspections, appraisals, concessions, fees, assists, waivers, endless negotiations and other disclosures that finding out late in the deal about a “paranormal presence” in a house, could jeopardize a done deal by unsettling even the most motivated buyer.
The creaky floors could be something easy to fix and not likely to hold up a Purchase, but should they be thought to be due to paranormal activity and not having been disclosed by the seller, there could be an insurmountable issue that emerges after signatures have been exchanged and provide a reason for legal claims based on lack of disclosure.
Unlike California, where you can go back 3 years and more for psychologically impacting events on the property, it’s not the case in Massachusetts! The law clearly states that, as it doesn’t fall in the category of material facts which have to be disclosed, it’s not necessary “to disclose the fact that the property was the site of “…felony, suicide or homicide” or “…that the real property has been the site of an alleged parapsychological or supernatural phenomenon.”
SELLERS AND LANDLORDS
So no disclosure of any stigma on a property for sale is legally necessary in Massachusetts, and that’s for a Seller or a Landlord or Lessor, to buyers or tenants, renters, lessees.
The general “Caveat Emptor” (Buyer beware) rule applies here for buyers, who are expected by law to perform their due diligence if sensitive to this aspect of a property. If you’re a buyer, we suggest you talk to neighbors, research public records, and just ask clear and direct questions, especially if there’s a doubt, maybe you heard some rumors, maybe a just a gut feeling.
If buyers ask questions, then the seller cannot misrepresent or make false statement to buyers without creating cause of action, with half-truths also providing an opportunity for a successful lawsuit. So ask those questions directly to who would know, especially owners, but also agents, they are both legally obligated to disclose upon request from a buyer.
CHOICE TO DISCLOSE
What sellers can do, is to provide information voluntarily. If they so choose, it’s their prerogative, but NOT obligation and buyers can’t claim it as a right.
REAL ESTATE AGENTS
If represented by an agent, in the same way no disclosure is necessary. Due to the fiduciary nature of the relationship between agent and seller, the agent cannot provide the information voluntarily, unlike the seller, and unless the seller authorizes or instructs the agent to do so. The agent can always decline to represent the seller or terminate an agreement already in place if the information emerges after establishing the contractual relationship. It may or may not be easier to get more truthful information from an agent due to the legal implications on their careers, so ask both seller and realtor.
REAL ESTATE INVESTORS
If an investor, like us at Proxima Investors, is involved, depending on the type of underlying deal, the investor is subject to the same disclosure rules as the seller, if holding equitable interest in the property.
At Proxima Investors we have not come across a situation of stigmatized properties where it was a concern. However, since Massachusetts is an old state with many old and beautiful homes. Homes can have a long and known history and the creaks and noises of old homes can be unsettling and inspire stories passed down over centuries. Think about Salem in the 1600s when Massachusetts was a very populous state with lots going on. It’s only a matter of time that we will run into this issue. We already have invested in old and antique homes, which can be difficult to sell in this market, and we love them. Should the issue at some point arise, we believe that it should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, as property stigmatizing events and situation have a different psychological impact depending on their uniqueness. As a buyer, you can just ask and we will be happy to disclose anything that could be of interest, but rest assured that in extreme cases we probably wouldn’t take such property and agree with the policy of demolition that has taken place on the site of awful events. So, as a buyer, if you see a house listed by us, you know that we aren’t aware of any major circumstances that would affect the property psychologically or “para-psychologically”.
Proxima Investors are not attorneys and we do not provide legal advice and only state our opinions. Check with your attorney of choice before making any decision based on the content of this article. A useful resource can be found by clicking the link below to the relevant section of the state law: Real estate transactions; disclosure; psychologically impacted property.