Home sellers can keep murders, suicides secret

This Dutch Colonial in Amityville,on the South Shore of Long Island, better known as the 'Amityville Horror' house. Ronald DeFeo, Jr. shot and killed six members of his family at the house.
This Dutch Colonial in Amityville,on the South Shore of Long Island, better known as the 'Amityville Horror' house. Ronald DeFeo, Jr. shot and killed six members of his family at the house.
Posted: January 03, 2013

Planning on buying a house this year?

If you're even slightly squeamish, get ready to do some extra detective work.

If the property was the site of bloody crime, the seller does not have to divulge that scrap of information.

In a decision handed up in Pennsylvania last week, a panel of Superior Court judges reaffirmed that the sordid reputation of a home - no matter how gruesome - does not count as "material defect" and does not have to be disclosed to the buyer.

"The fact that a murder once occurred in a house falls into that category of homebuyer concerns best left to caveat emptor" - let the buyer beware, the court wrote.

For those of you shopping on the other side of the Delaware River, the same rules apply in New Jersey.

Janet S. Milliken bought a 14-year-old Delaware County McMansion in 2007 from Kathleen and Joseph Jacono. The Jaconos had spent $450,000 to buy the Thornton property at auction in April and flipped it, selling it to Milliken in August for $610,000, according to court records.

In September, Milliken learned her new home had been the site of a murder-suicide the previous year.

Police said three children were in the house on a cold February morning when Konstantinos Koumboulis, 50, shot his wife, Georgia Koumboulis, 34, and then turned the gun on himself. The children were not physically harmed. According to the court decision, the Jaconos and their real estate agents, Re/Max, knew about the home's lurid history. They called the state Real Estate Commission who assured them that they were not required to disclose that information.

Milliken sued, arguing that she never would have bought the house if she had been aware of the grisly crime. Brokers often consider homes that have been the scene of a murder or suicide as "stigmatized." The term also encompasses the belief that a house might be haunted by ghosts.

Milliken asserted that the damage to the house was as real as any structural defect because the crime diminished the value of the property.

In a dissenting opinion to last week's decision, Superior Court Judge John T. Bender acknowledged that Milliken had suffered a six-figure loss.

Said Bender: "The financial penalty Mrs. Milliken has suffered was entirely avoidable had the sellers whom she bought her home merely exercised a little more integrity and a little less greed."

The upshot to Milliken v. Jacono et al: If living within a former crime scene would keep you from a night's sleep, ask for a written warranty in the agreement of sale that states the home was never the site of a murder, suicide or other felony.

It also couldn't hurt to ask questions around the neighborhood, such as, "That house have any local nicknames? You know, like, the Amityville Horror?"


Contact staff writer Sam Wood at 215-854-2796, @samwoodiii or samwood@phillynews.com.

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