Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre McIvor: Deadly serious part of buying a home

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Older houses have a lot of history behind them. Photo / Michael Craig
Older houses have a lot of history behind them. Photo / Michael Craig

It would come as no surprise to me to learn that people had died in the house we have lived in for 16 years. After all, it is a worker's cottage dating back to 1880. Life for a labourer would have been brutish and short - and life as a labourer's wife would have been even worse.

So if somebody coughed their consumptive last within these four walls or died in agony in childbirth, that's only to be expected.

Dying at home isn't quite so routine these days. There are the fortunate ones who are able to be nursed at home through a terminal illness, allowing them to die peacefully in their own beds.

And then there are those less fortunate souls who take their own lives or are murdered in a place that should be their sanctuary.

And while I don't expect real estate agents to be able to give me the whakapapa of every family that has ever lived in a 130-year-old house, I would certainly expect to be told if the house was for sale as the result of the death of the owner or tenant.

Richard and Evette Campbell sold their "sad", "dark" and "depressing" Flat Bush home five months after moving in. After they'd sold it, they found out that a previous tenant had committed suicide in the garage.

The Campbells passed on that information to the new buyers who sold the home before they'd even moved in, and the Campbells sought compensation from the real estate agents involved in the sale.

In its decision, the Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal said the Campbells should have been told of the death but declined to award any damages as there was no legal obligation for the agents to disclose information of deaths on a property.

Surely, however, there is a moral imperative. In possession of all the facts, people can then make up their own minds whether they choose to buy or not.

There are plenty of pragmatists who scoff at the notion of spirits. They would see the death of the previous inhabitant in the home as an opportunity to leverage a better price out of the agent. For them, any bad karma could be vacuumed up or painted over.

Others of us, though, are more empathetic, maybe. There have been times when I have had a physical reaction to being in a place and found out later it was a site where people had died before their time.

Emotions are a funny old thing. An atheist I know called in a priest, a tohunga and the local white witch to cleanse the property he and his wife had just bought because the previous occupant was a polarising politician he despised.

He said it was an opportunity to get everyone around for a knees-up, but I can't help thinking there was a part of him that thought if there was even a remote possibility of ridding the house of bad political ju-ju, it was worth a punt.

Even within the ranks of those who concede to being a little bit spooked, you'll find there are divisions. Some people wouldn't move into a home where somebody had recently died, no matter how the death had occurred.

For others, a peaceful death would be fine, a violent death, definitely not. For me, it would depend on how long ago the death happened and its cause.

But most of us are in agreement on wanting to know. I feel there is an onus on real estate agents to give all the information they have about a property. Equally, there is an onus on the buyer to ask the questions they feel are important before they make a decision on the biggest purchase of their life.

Read: On the market - no extra charge for the ghosts

• Kerre McIvor is on Newstalk ZB, Monday-Thursday, 8pm-midnight.

- Herald on Sunday

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