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Home sellers don't have to disclose murder

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 06:42 AM
TAMPA -

In the garage of a Plant City rental home is a memento possibly left by an accused killer.

The name of Dee Dee Moore, charged last year for killing Lotto winner Abraham Shakespeare and burying him behind his house, is carved in concrete in pretty cursive writing. A handprint is beside it.

"It’s kind of spooky," said Steve Hernandez, who rents the house.

The Shakespeare house is one of the Tampa Bay area’s most infamous. But every house has a story. The question is: how much of it do sellers have to reveal?

From sinkholes, leaky roofs and toxic drywall to grisly murders, sellers often aren’t sure what they have to tell potential buyers and what they can just keep to themselves.

The simple answer is this: any defect that affects the value of the home should be disclosed. But just what affects the value is debatable.

"Some things are straightforward," said real estate lawyer Ron Weaver. "But others are a gray area, so sellers take a risk when they keep things to themselves. I can’t guarantee you won’t find a judge that disagrees with your decision."

In this housing downturn, anything that deters a buyer will make it even harder to sell a house. That’s why some experts say sellers shouldn’t disclose more than they have to.

But Weaver cautions: "People can sue for anything."

The law isn’t crystal clear on what’s required.

In 1985, the Florida Supreme Court said anything that could adversely affect the value of a home must be disclosed to buyers. That covers things like sinkholes, defective roofs and bad drywall, Weaver said.

After the Supreme Court decision, the real estate community went out of its way to disclose everything and anything that could get sellers or their agents in legal trouble later.

But that changed in 2010 when the Florida Legislature said murder doesn’t affect the value of a home.

Now, real estate agents won’t typically tell sellers about murder or crime in a house they’re interested in, said agent Nick Davis.

"Agents worry that if they tell someone and that buyer decides not to buy, they could be sued for disclosing the information," Davis said.

All around the Tampa Bay area are houses with heinous histories. And they all have to be sold sometime.

Five people were slaughtered, one by one by one, in a Seffner home.

On a picture-perfect street in New Tampa, investigators say a mother shot and killed her teenage children.

And the man who used to own a Seminole Heights bungalow is in prison, for drugging and sexually torturing nine men in the house.

Although some buyers may be frightened to live in these homes, such crimes doesn’t affect the value, said Margy Grant, a lawyer for the Florida Realtors, a trade organization for real estate agents.

"Some people think houses are haunted, but we don’t disclose that Casper lives there," Grant said.

Davis said he advises all of his clients to do their homework before buying.

Search for the address on the Internet, where news stories would pop up.

Contact local police and run a history check on the property.

Be nosey. Most neighbors are willing to dish the dirt, if you ask.

Fortunately for Hernandez, the troubling history of his home doesn’t bother him all that much. But some of his friends think he’s crazy for renting the house.

"If you believe in ghosts and things like that, yeah, you might not want to live here," Hernandez said.


sbehnken@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7804 Twitter: @TBORealtyCheck

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