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Skeletons in the Closet

Is a Realtor obligated to disclose a property’s hidden past?

October 27, 2011
Josh Jerman , The Maui Weekly

When showing a property to prospective buyers, Realtors are asked a number of questions: Is it a safe neighborhood? What repairs have been made to the home? Then there are some not-so-standard questions: Does anything go bump in the night? Yes, on occasion, a buyer will inquire if any type of crime, murder or suicide has occurred in the home or on the property-and if there have been any reports of paranormal activity.

If you've seen films like The Amityville Horror, Poltergeist or An American Haunting, you might believe-at least in Hollywood-there is a ghost of a chance that a property can be tainted by a sordid past.

All superstitions aside, a property can be stigmatized if a death occurred there.

So, is a seller or Realtor required to disclose if a death occurred in the

property? Well, the answer depends on the circumstances. According to Chapter 508D of the Hawai'i Revised Statutes ("Mandatory Seller Disclosures in Real Estate Transactions"), sellers of residential properties must disclose all "material facts." A material fact is defined as "any defect or condition that is past or present that would be expected to measurably affect the value to a reasonable person of the residential real property being offered for sale." In other words, if a seller or Realtor has knowledge of any kind of "defect," including paranormal activity or certain types of death that occurred on a property, he or she must disclose it to the buyer.

There is one exception, however; if the death is related to HIV or AIDS, as it is privileged information under state law. Do you want to know the kinds of circumstances surrounding death that are required to be disclosed? How about the ones that aren't? Just email me your questions.

What about other types of crimes or unpleasant situations that took place in a home for sale-or within a neighborhood? We will discuss this and other "material facts" that impact a buyer's decision in my next "Ask Josh" column. Until then, have a happy and safe Halloween!

Josh Jerman is a REALTOR/Broker with The Wailea Group LLC, located in The Shops at Wailea at 3750 Wailea Alanui Drive, Ste. 5EW. He serves on the Realtors Association of Maui (RAM) Board of Directors, RAM Education Committee and the Hawai'i Association of Realtors' Finance Committee. To "Ask Josh," send your questions to or visit



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