Getting past the stigma: In Maryland, real estate agents don't have to disclose a home's past

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When a Severna Park woman fatally shot herself a decade ago, real estate agent Bev Langley had to sell her house.

When a Severna Park woman fatally shot herself a decade ago, real estate agent Bev Langley had to sell the house where she did it.

Under Maryland law, Langley was not required to tell potential buyers about the death at the home. It eventually sold and she never heard about it again.

That house, one in Annapolis where the homeowner died of AIDS and another in Anne Arundel County that was the site of a murder, make up the handful of stigmatized properties Langley has had to handle in her career. What do do about such properties — those that have witnessed deaths or suicides, or are believed to be haunted — was the topic of the most recent meeting of the Women's Council of Realtors Anne Arundel County chapter.

"I was told if they ask questions — was someone murdered in this house or did someone die in this house — the best thing to do is tell them to Google the house," said Langley, of Century 21 Finesse in Severna Park. "A house with a murder can be difficult to sell. Time is probably the only healer."

The meeting was held at the Anne Arundel County Association of Realtors office in Arnold. The agents gathered there discussed the law, their experiences with such properties and how stigmatized homes have fared around the country.

getting-past-the-stigma-in-maryland-real-estate-agents-don-and-apos;t-have-to-disclose-a-home-and-apos;s-past photo 1 An Ellicott City home listed for $3.2 million was the most expensive home to hit the market in the Baltimore area in January. 

State law does not require agents to disclose if the owner or occupant of the property was infected or diagnosed with HIV or AIDS, or if the property was the site of a homicide, a suicide, a felony or an accidental or natural death.

The owner or seller's agent is also immune from civil liability or criminal penalty for failing to disclose those facts, according to the law. In 2013, legislators considered a bill that would have overturned this law, but it didn't pass.

"The biggest thing with stigmatized properties is, we can't talk about it, but our consumers want to know this information," President-elect Carol Little told the group.

getting-past-the-stigma-in-maryland-real-estate-agents-don-and-apos;t-have-to-disclose-a-home-and-apos;s-past photo 2 Bob and Donna McWilliams

Now that the snow has melted away, sellers are getting in gear, making preparations for putting their house on the market during the all-important spring market. As we all know, part of that process includes some great pictures of the old homestead. Nothing wets the appetite of buyers more than...

Now that the snow has melted away, sellers are getting in gear, making preparations for putting their house on the market during the all-important spring market. As we all know, part of that process includes some great pictures of the old homestead. Nothing wets the appetite of buyers more than...

(Bob and Donna McWilliams)

"Let the nosy neighbors tell them before they go under contract, not afterward … Today's buyers are a little more savvy than they have been in the past. They know way more stuff than I do."

During the meeting, Little offered examples of what became of famous crime scenes. The California home outside of which Nicole Brown Simpson was killed sat on the market for years, finally selling for less than half its value. In 2008, it sold for $1.5 million.

The Miami mansion where Gianni Versace was killed is being operated as a hotel. But the addresses on both these properties have been changed.

The website Oshimaland.com allows users to look up stigmatized properties on a map, but there are no local listings. Another such site is Housecreep.com, which relies on user-submitted information. It lists three homes in Anne Arundel — in Churchton, Lothian and Shady Side — as sites of killings.

Several years ago, real estate agent Debbie Iverson was the listing agent for a home where a suicide had taken place. No questions were asked.

"When you're showing a property, you don't really know ... if someone passed away, if they passed away in the house or in a nursing home," said Iverson, who works at Century 21 Don Gurney in Pasadena. "When you're a listing agent, it's good to review laws that can be helpful to our clients."

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