Do You Want To Know Your Home’s History?

Private Property South Africa
Shaun Wewege

A few weeks back I wrote about some of the ghost stories that are popular in South Africa. It sparked a bit of a discussion about haunted houses, notably, the belief that Daisy De Melker’s old home is occupied by spooks. This got me thinking – would you buy a house with a dark history?

Unless you are the first person to occupy a home there is likelihood that some form of misery has befallen the previous owner at some point. A couple may have divorced, parents lost a young child or a drowning may have occurred in the swimming pool. While such unfortunate events are part of life, the question remains, would you buy a home if you knew precisely what ills had befallen former residents?

Legally, agents have to disclose defects. Cracked roof tiles, recent renovations and leaking geyser have to be disclosed and in theory, according to some interpretations of the Consumer Protection Act, sellers should also mention any other problems they have encountered. This includes noisy dogs, golf balls breaking windows if the home is built along a golf course, crime in the area and a recent death in the house. Whether or not this happens is difficult to tell.

It’s often a thorny issue and a problem globally. In the United States, California has made disclosure mandatory if there has been a death in the house in the preceding three years. However, if the cause of death is AIDS, sellers may then keep that information confidential. The media can have a major influence on the selling price of stigmatized houses. Following the murder of child beauty pageant entrant JonBenét Ramsey in her home, her parents decided to sell. Despite the street number being changed, the new owners eventually felt harassed and decided to move due to a barrage of tourists who would arrive to see the famed “murder house”.

It is understandable that you would want to know if the former owner sold narcotics. After all, you wouldn’t want to receive late night visitors wanting a fix or an occasional police raid. The other side of the coin is that it may be more psychologically comfortable not to know. It’s your new home where you may want to start a lifetime of happy memories – if the previous tenant died of a terminal disease, you are not able to change that. So why fixate on the past?

Barring instances where the home itself has lead to catastrophe (perhaps it’s built on an area prone to sinkholes, toxic substances have been used in construction or a rickety staircase lead to a fatal fall), it seems silly to think that because former inhabitants met a dreadful fate, you will too. But reason as we may there is one important factor that comes into play. The creepiness factor.

You may be willing to accept that the previous owner was aged and died peacefully in his or her sleep. But would you be happy knowing that a jealous ex shot the owner and then turned the gun on him or herself?

Everyone from folks on online forums to barflies at the local watering hole will have their own views and their own boundaries in this regard. Some will repaint, renovate and make as many changes as possible so that their new home bares no resemblance to the one in which a tragedy took place.

Others won’t put a foot in the door.

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