Real estate sales can require scary disclosures

Castles in the Sand

What do people do when they have everything they can possibly need? A safe and secure place to live, plenty of good quality food and access to modern health care. You know what they do, they pay to be locked in a spooky room and challenged to find a way out.

One of the hottest forms of entertainment in our privileged country is called an escape room. In it, you are literally locked in for an hour with a group of other people and look for clues while the ghost of a recently departed leaves hints to help you find an exit.

Crazy as this may sound, it’s not nearly as crazy as selling properties where there is a belief of hauntings or a death in the property. In September I wrote a column about property disclosure and discussed that the state of Florida holds sellers responsible to disclose defects in a property. Although this disclosure does not have to be in writing, it is recommended for the seller’s protection that it is.

The state’s guidelines indicate that disclosure does not have to be made if the property was inhabited by a person infected with HIV or AIDS or that a murder or suicide has occurred or is suspected to have occurred on the property. Likewise, disclosure does not have to be made if the house is known to be haunted since there is no way to authenticate a haunted house; it’s all subjective.

However, the guideline also states that disclosure must be made if there is a potential impact on the value or desirability of the property. This is a little bit of a conflict and a gaping gray area in an already ambiguous zone of the disclosure. Most real estate professionals would advise full disclosure for rumors about hauntings as well as unusual deaths in the property just as you would disclose foundation cracks hidden behind walls particularly if you’re asked.

Even though sellers are not obligated to do so and would not have a financial obligation after a closing, why make a buyer feel he/she has been duped? Since some buyers are sensitive to previous activity in a property, the disclosure is the best course of action, as silly as it may sound. Even Bernie Madoff’s New York City condo had a problem selling because buyers didn’t want to be associated with the bad energy that may be lurking in the property.

But what about future developments adjacent to properties or bridges? Manatee County is exploding with construction – some very big that will change the lifestyle of nearby residents, not to mention the rebuilding of both bridges out to Anna Maria Island, both of which could impact existing properties.

These are projects that have been approved, on the books but not begun and would not be obvious to a potential buyer. Are sellers obligated to disclose future approved projects that could have a substantial financial impact on properties? Don’t look to me for an answer, but if it were me and I knew something on the books would financially or aesthetically impact property I was selling, I would have a sit down with an attorney.

In the spirit of full disclosure, you should disclose the spirits if you have any. Have a happy Halloween and watch out for the ghosts – even the friendly ones.

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Attorney or no attorney – that is the question