A house on St. Matthews Avenue where a foreclosure agent found 51-year-old Peter Wald’s decomposing corpse in September, months after he died, was up for sale this spring.
The episode proved a bit challenging for the realtors tasked with selling it.
They published a video with a jazzy piano soundtrack accompanying photos of the extensively renovated five-bedroom house.
“We didn’t have a lot of showings,” said Nicole Smith, manager at St. Jean Realty Inc., which listed the property. “We had to list the property below market value because of the whole issue.”
But the house sold in a speedy 13 days, Smith said. The team knocked about $60,000 off of the $260,000 or so a similar house in the market could sell for, Smith estimated.
The sellers printed off the news articles about Wald’s death and required the buyers acknowledge they knew about the property’s history.
It didn’t seem to faze them, she said.
“They got a gorgeous house for very cheap,” Smith said.
Not every story gets as much media attention as that one, though. And when the property changes hands again, the sellers may not disclose the house’s history.
That’s where two Ontario brothers come in, hoping you’ll turn to their website to research a property’s past.
The site, called Housecreep, shows a map of addresses where former residents were murdered, committed suicide or where law enforcement have investigated meth or drug labs. Already, Hamilton properties such as the one on St. Matthews Avenue are showing up on the site.
One highlights the notorious Evelyn Dick case where a murdered and mummified infant boy was found in the attic.
'It's addictive, isn't it?'
A pin points to that Carrick Avenue house where, during the trial of convicted murderer Evelyn Dick in the 1940s, her dead son’s remains were found encased in cement in an old suitcase in the attic.
Another points to a fire on Cannon Street where the first-floor resident died in hospital after being burned.
“It’s addictive, isn’t it?” said one of the site’s founders, Albert Armieri. “You start by looking up your own property, then you move on to your neighborhood, and before you know it you’re province-wide.”
Armieri lives in Ottawa. He and his brother in Toronto launched the site last year after they’d both wondered about the possibly sordid histories of properties they were hoping to buy or rent.
The disclosures go beyond the material information sellers are required to tell potential buyers about. Armieri said a large portion of the site’s contributors are realtors who found the information as they helped buyers evaluate options.
“Sellers just aren’t obligated to disclose things like murders and suicides,” Armieri said.
Not all of the listings are verified with news sources, however. Some are just personal remembrances or stories about a particular property.
'I don’t want people showing up here at 2 in the morning wanting to buy dope'
Laws vary across Canada, but there’s no legislation or case law in Ontario to suggest realtors must disclose the existence of stigmas to buyers, according to the Real Estate Council of Ontario, the regulatory body over the buying and selling of real estate in the province.
The agency defines stigma as “a non-physical intangible attribute of a property that may elicit a psychological or emotional response on the part of a potential buyer.”
Sellers are only required to disclose things that would materially affect the house. Mould scraped out of walls after a house was used for a grow op is the most common one seen locally by Tim Mattioli, a local realtor and president of the Realtors Association of Hamilton and Burlington.
On the tangible side, buyers want to check to see that the mould and electrical issues have been resolved. But in the intangible column, some buyers might fear the confusion from the house’s previous visitors.
“They’re saying, ‘I don’t want people showing up here at 2 in the morning wanting to buy dope,’” Mattioli said.
A good rule of thumb for realtors determining what to disclose is anything that “would alter a person’s decision to purchase or lease that property,” Mattioli said.
The website also cites tragedies that some home's current residents continue to live with. Loma Cort doesn’t need the website’s listing to remind her of what happened at her house on Tuxedo Drive nine years ago. Her 48-year-old son, Lorne, committed suicide in the driveway and his brother found him. The anniversary of his death is next week. She’s lived in the house for 35 years, she said. Her son was gay, she said, and he was harassed at work.
That’s in the past now, she said. Every once in a while, she places a memorial message to her son in the newspaper. She said she’s encouraged by the way society’s attitudes are changing toward gay people.
“We’ve come a long way,” she said.