Real estate agents told to reveal homes' grisly pasts

MICHAEL FOREMAN
Last updated 10:56 07/06/2014

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Home buyers have a right to know if there was a suicide at a property they plan to buy, the real estate agents' disciplinary body says.

In a decision made public this week, an Auckland couple sought compensation after an agent sold them a house without telling them someone killed themselves there.

The Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal dismissed their appeal. However, it upheld an earlier decision by the Real Estate Agents Authority's complaints assessment committee that the agent, Barfoot & Thompson, had engaged in "unsatisfactory conduct" in not disclosing the suicide.

The house had previously been let to tenants from 2009, one of whom killed themselves in the garage a year before it was sold.

The Barfoot branch manager consulted director Garth Barfoot, who decided that no information about the suicide needed to be disclosed in marketing.

Five months after moving in and becoming aware of the home's history from neighbours, Richard and Evette Campbell put the house back on the market as it was "dark and felt depressing" and they "felt uneasy".

In his decision, tribunal chairman Judge Paul Barber said Barfoot had decided that the suicide was a personal matter that related only to the previous occupants and had no relevance to the condition of the property.

But Barber said the complaints assessment committee had been correct in its earlier decision to censure Barfoot & Thompson without further penalty.

"Simply put, we think that the fair thing was, quite clearly, for Barfoots to disclose in succinct and general terms the sad event to reasonably interested prospective purchasers," Barber said.

"For many people the suicide event would be off-putting and affect use and enjoyment."

There are differing views about whether a house that has been the scene of a death is a desirable buy, and whether agents should tell people about it.

A house in Mt Victoria, Wellington, where Diane Miller was stabbed to death by Rufus Marsh in 1986, was sold by an agent who claimed not to know its history.

The buyer, Sarah Coxhead, said that may have been "a little bit naughty" but did not think agents should have to tell people about such things.

Another Wellington property, the office in The Terrace where Gene and Eugene Thomas were killed in 1994 - for which John Barlow served a 15-year jail term - became a dental surgery.

Some homes where gruesome crimes have occurred have been burned down or otherwise destroyed, as happened with the Bain family home in 1994; Aramoana gunman David Gray's crib in 1990; and mass murderer Stan Graham's farmhouse in 1941.

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- The Dominion Post

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