Monday, November 26, 2012

One More Post on Real Estate and Violent Death

A response to my two previous posts on real estate and violent deaths from thoughtful reader Kristian Gravenor:

Nice post, good topic, but I think you're greatly overestimating the issue.

People die in every pre-owned house in a lot of ways. It has no bearing on what happens when you live there.

In the USA there's a hodgepodge of laws from state to state concerning disclosure but I've never found a case in the files of a lawsuit asking for material damages from such a failure to disclose in Kweebeck.

Unless there was a Jim Jones-type body count inside the house I wouldn't be bothered a tiny bit by what happened before.

Yes, but there's a difference between people dying in houses and people dying violently in houses. I learned this lesson first hand a few years ago when I was given the responsibility of selling a home in which the owner had just taken his own life. In this case, the death was not violent, as these things go, but it was an unnatural death. The police and an ambulance were involved. All the neighbors knew what had happened.That raised the potential for neighborhood gossp and conjecture.

It was an interesting experience. The house was fully furnished but quite empty. People had what can only be described as "spidey senses". You could see them trying to put the story of this house together as they walked through. They knew something was a bit off about it.

If I sensed that there was an interest in making an offer, I would sit down and explain the situation. It was amazing the number of times people told me intimate stories of their own experiences with suicide - friends, family members, their struggles with dark thoughts. These are not the kinds of stories you tell complete strangers. Or maybe they are.

The first people who wanted to make an offer on the house were a Vietnamese family, elderly parents, young professional kids. As soon as they heard about the suicide, they said sorry, no thanks. Here's the thing, and it speaks to the point you raise, Kristian. They would not have been bothered by a death in the house. Had an old person died quietly in the house after a long, good life, that would have been auspicious. A violent death was not negotiable.

It took a while, but I sold the house to a family from Iran. The woman with whom I was negotiating had a cousin who took her own life in her early 20s. She had thought long and hard about what makes people kill themselves. Her only question before buying the house was whether kids in the local school yard were going to pick on her son or refuse to play at their house because of that event. I told her I didn't think they would. She bought a good house in a good neighborhood at a good price.

As for whether people go to court over the failure to disclose, you may be right, though I wonder how you would even check such a thing. The other option is that the parties settle out of court most times because if there's been a violent death and the broker hasn't disclosed, the buyer would win, hands down.

So there, you go, Kristian. Thanks for writing. You keep me on my toes.

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Few More Thoughts on On Dream Home as the Scene of a Crime

Yesterday, by pure accident, I stumbled upon an MLS property where the listing broker noted discreetly that the home had been the scene of a suicide. It was mentioned in a note to other agents, not visible to the general public.

I investigated a little further. Yup, the vendor noted the suicide in the vendor's declaration. Here's the interesting part. The suicide occurred before she bought the property. Date and details unknown.  That sent me scampering back through the previous MLS listings for this particular property (What can I say? It was a slow day and I didn't feel like vacuuming. Or folding laundry. Or raking leaves.)
None of the three previous listings mentioned the suicide, either in a note to other agents, or in the vendor's declaration.

It could be the the previous vendor verbally disclosed the suicide to the buyer. It is also possible that the info was written in the declaration but that the declaration was not posted to the MLS site.

I found it curious that the current seller has left an online signpost about the violent death, one that won't be easily erased. From now on, the house's sad history will be there for brokers to see. She gets points for honesty, though I suspect that honesty might make it harder to sell her house.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

When Your Dream Home Was the Scene of a Nightmare

Yahoo News picked up a Toronto Star story today about a Bowmanville, Ont. couple who bought what they thought was their dream home, only to discover that the property was the scene of a double murder 15 years earlier.

The owners are now suing their real estate agent, claiming she should have disclosed the house's sordid past to them. They are also suing the former owners, who purchased the property after the crime.

According to the Toronto Star story (link here until it goes dead): 

"The Real Estate Council of Ontario, which regulates the industry, issued a warning to (agent Mary) Roy last month on the grounds that she “deliberately withheld a material fact known to her” regarding the murders from the buyers, contrary to the Real Estate and Business Brokers Act. The decision followed a complaint by the (buyers) earlier this year.
The council cited several provisions in the act’s code of conduct, including not engaging “in any act or omission that, having regard to all the circumstances, would reasonably be regarded as disgraceful, dishonorable, unprofessional or unbecoming a registrant.”

The Star story goes on to say that the case raises questions about what a real estate agent is obliged to disclose.

"Lawyers say the case involves a grey area in common law on the issue of “duty to disclose” — and how to assess what information that entails.
If the claim proceeds to trial, it could become a test case for the doctrine of “caveat emptor,” or buyer beware, and whether the couple’s situation is an exception to that general rule."

You will be glad to know that in Quebec there is no such ambiguity about what an agent is obliged to disclose to a potential buyer. The Real Estate Brokerage Act (REBA) says:

 A broker or agency executive officer must inform the party represented
and all other parties to a transaction of any known factor that may adversely
affect the parties or the object of the transaction.

In plain English, if I know something about a house,I must disclose it, whether the buyer asks or not.
The law goes further. Each time a client and I sign a brokerage contract before listing a property for sale, we also complete a Vendor's Declaration. This six-page checklist is where sellers declare everything they know about their house, from the age of the roof to - oh yeah, by the way -  someone was killed here.

"To your knowledge, has there ever been a suicide or violent death in the immovable?"

In case that is too narrow a question, the declaration also inquires:

"To your knowledge, are there any other factors relating to the immovable not mentioned in these declaration that are liable to significantly reduce the value or restrict the use thereof, reduce the income generated thereby or increase the expenses relating thereto (e.g. development or construction project, environmental problems (e.g. radon, abnormally high noise level, unpleasant odor, etc.)"

The latter question covers pretty much any other eventuality, whether the house was used as a brothel, a marijuana grow-op or a slaughterhouse for chickens. (Where did THAT come from?)

The vendor's declaration is attached to the listing so that other agents can see it. Buyers are given a copy before they make their offer and must sign and date the declaration as proof that they are aware of all a house's quirks and defects.

There's no gray area in Quebec law about whether or not you must disclose. When in doubt, disclose.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Free the Blackstrap BBQ Sign!!

Blackstrap BBQ sign, stolen shamelessly from their Twitter page @bbqblackstrap
There's a bit of a brouhaha in the Twitterverse involving Verdun's buzziest new restaurant Blackstrap BBQ.

The Wellington St. eatery is getting rave reviews for its authentic Memphis style ribs, brisket, pulled pork and such. Everything is smoked daily on the premises. As we say here in Quebec "Omnomnomnom."

It's great to see energetic young entrepreneurs making a go of it on our main drag, Wellington St. Given the number of slice pizza joints and 99-cent hot dog emporia, Blackstrap represents a quantum step up in quality. Just what a gentrifying neighborhood needs.

To make a long story short, controversy has erupted over Blackstrap's distinctive new sign. Apparently it falls outside the borough's regulations for signage. Language, you ask? No. Plywood. Verdun doesn't permit plywood signage. Too "ghetto", in the words of Blackstrap co-owner Clara Barron.

Word spread through the social media world, with the good folks over at the Decouvrir/Discover Verdun Facebook page (an invaluable resource for people interested in local doings) voicing outrage over the borough's small-mindedness. 

As several posters pointed out, this kind of nitpicking is no way to encourage small business. Photos of ugly storefronts were posted on the FB page, none of which appear to offend the delicate sensibilities of Verdun's signage tastemakers.

A few minutes ago, Blackstrap's Barron posted a Twitter update, saying that the SDC Wellington (Société de développement commercial) will go to bat for Blackstrap and try to persuade the borough council to approve the sign.

A happy ending? Not quite yet, but maybe. Now go get some brisket.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Just Listed! Point St. Charles 4-Bedroom Cottage

Just listed in Point St. Charles, a lovely four-bedroom Victorian. 582 Bourgeoys St., a bit south of Wellington, was built in 1885 and has been lovingly cared for by an attentive owner. It's big enough for a growing family though the easy flow of the main floor would make it a wonderful home for that sociable couple who like to entertain. The asking price is $524,000.

The floors, door and window trim, as well as a grand staircase that wends to the second storey, are all stripped original pine. The hot water radiators (super comfortable heat)  are hidden beneath ornate 19th-century brass and marble mantles. The ceilings are high, the windows and doorways are large. In short, like broad-at-the-beam Queen Victoria herself, this house was built for comfort.

The main floor features a spacious living room that easily accommodates a huge sectional sofa, ideal of family movie nights or gatherings of friends.

The dining room, with a view onto the back garden, can easily seat 12, without crowding.
The kitchen retains its original tall wooden cabinets. There's room for a breakfast table and a nook for a desk, computer station or spot where the kids can do homework while a grown up gets started on dinner.

The main floor also has a powder room. A door at the back of the kitchen communicates with the main floor laundry and to a large treated wood deck and flagstone patio in the sunny, fenced back yard. There's a lane behind the house and the flagstone patio can double as parking in a pinch. Street parking is easy.
 Upstairs, you'll find four real bedrooms, including a massive master bedroom that measures nearly 13 feet by 13 feet. The second and third bedrooms are equally spacious.The smallest room is irregular in shape. It would make a perfect baby's room or den/office. All of the rooms have high ceilings and large windows. This is a quiet residential street with two and three-storey buildings. The light pours in all day long.

The main bathroom is divided into two rooms, a bath with shower in one room with a skylight and the WC in another little room of its own. The fixtures have been updated.

Point St. Charles has become one of the most sought-after neighborhoods in central Montreal in the last 20 years, in part because it is an easy 10 minute drive, 20 minute bike ride or 20 minute bus trip to the corner of Peel and Ste. Catherine. The housing stock is older, with lots of Victorian charm and more modest homes that have been gussied up with sleek contemporary style.

582 Bourgeoys (the anglo old-timers pronounce it Burgess)  offers the luxury of space, a rare fenced AND sunny garden, carefully preserved cachet and four real bedrooms.

The basement is unfinished, but is easily 7 feet high, with interesting potential, if the square footage above ground isn't enough room for you.

As with all houses, it has a few quirks. There's a new chimney liner but the brick chimney itself will need attention in the next few years. The windows are older and still work fine, but aren't as energy efficient as newer models. We all have our little imperfections, don't we?

Check out the complete listing at Give me a call if you'd like to schedule a visit.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Rosemont Duplex Just Listed

I've just listed a duplex at 4439-441 St-Zotique, at the corner of 28th Ave. in Rosemont. The property consists of  two 5.5 room dwellings, each with three closed bedrooms and large eat in-kitchens with patio doors that give onto large  rear decks.

The property has one tenant living in the ground-floor unit, and a live-in owner upstairs. Both the tenant and the owner will be leaving by July 1, 2013.

The tenant pays $850 unheated and has use of the basement for storage and laundry. He also has an outdoor parking spot on the rear driveway. The upper could probably rent for between $750 and $800. The owner uses the single-width double garage and a cold room in the basement.

The property has been co-owned by the same two families since the mid 1960s. They are generally well maintained, with newer windows, repointed brick, new balconies, stairs and guard rails. The ground floor has a 200-amp electrical box, while the upper has 125 amps.

There's huge upside potential in the unfinished basement, with room aplenty for a fresh new laundry room and family room or extra bedroom, as need be.

The asking price is $475,000. The vendors are open to negotiation. Don't hesitate to call if you have questions or would like to schedule a visit.