It’s a legal grey area, and it can also be a moral one for real-estate agents – what to do when a property has a violent past?
Properties that were once home to violent crime can take a hit in interest and value.
On Feb. 2, 2008 real estate agent Lindsay Buziak was stabbed to death while showing an unoccupied home in Gordon Head. The murder – which remains unsolved – has garnered international attention over the last decade. 1702 De Sousa Pl., the property she was showing when she was killed, didn’t sell until March of the next year. Real Estate Weekly reports that the property was sold for just under $763,000 –$200,000 less than it was listed for.
In B.C. real estate agents do not need to openly disclose violent stigmas. It’s largely up to individual real estate agents to choose what to disclose openly and when.
Later in 2009, Oak Bay realtor Greg Phillips found himself in such a scenario.
He was tasked to sell 310 King George Terrace, then home to Peter Kyun Joon Lee, his wife Yong Sun Park and their son Cristian. On Sept. 4, 2007—after the property was originally listed for sale – Lee fatally stabbed Park, Park’s parents, and their son before taking his own life.
“So then you’re kind of in a position of what do we do next? So it came off the market of course.” said Phillips. “There wasn’t really anyone around to sign anything or give direction or do anything about it, but obviously it had to come off. It was quite sometime later I had a call from the lawyer for the estate about the property. They asked if I would list it and I agreed to, with the understanding that it was to be disclosed to anybody who would be writing an offer on it, irrespective of what the law said.”
According to Phillips, there was nothing concrete in case law at that time about stigma disclosures.
Today, the online Real Estate Council of BC (RECBC) Professional Standards Manual (PSM) has a webpage that discusses stigmatized properties. It says that if asked about stigmas, the seller may “decline to answer the question and advise the buyer to conduct his or her own investigation.” A material latent defect must be reported to potential buyers, but violent histories are not specifically mentioned. The RECBC PSM does say if the seller is asked and chooses to answer, they “…would be expected to use reasonable skill and care to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information they provide.”
In March 2018 a Vancouver woman was ordered to return a $300,000 deposit to a would-be buyer because of a dishonest disclosure back in 2009. The seller’s son-in-law had been killed just outside the house, but the buyer did not become aware until after the deposit had been paid. A judge ruled in the buyer’s favour on the grounds the buyer was entitled to an accurate answer of why the house was for sale. It was determined that the answer the seller provided was not entirely accurate, as the murder did play a role in the choice to sell.
Back in Oak Bay, Phillips admits that he was in an awkward position because he already was engaged with the family before the tragedy. He said part of why he eventually sold the property was to do right by the victims, although he was adamant about disclosure.
“I didn’t really care what law said,” said Phillips. “As I said to the lawyer, I don’t want to be the test case.”
Although his memory is foggy on the specifics, Phillips said he listed the house at its original price—just a shade over a million dollars he said. REW reports that the property sold for $880,000 in April 2009. He couldn’t say for sure how many people were turned away from the house because of its past because everyone who saw the place was aware of it before they entered.
“It’s certainly not something you want to repeat in your career if you can help it,” Phillips said.