Inside Edition went undercover to find out just how much realtors are telling potential buyers about homes with a dark secret.
New Update: See below for a statement from one of the homeowners connected with this report.
A home is the biggest purchase most people ever make – so would you want to live where a murder took place?
An investigation conducted by Inside Edition has found there are plenty of houses with a dark past for sale. But do prospective buyers have the right to know about it?
Among the houses with sinister secrets is a home on a quiet street in Monterey, California. Its owners, Scott and Laura Cotes, told Inside Edition that convicted murderer Alfred Powell lived there in the 1980s and, according to police, buried the bodies of two of his victims on the property.
“This is where we found the body,” Scott Cotes said, pointing to the garden. "You could never be prepared for somebody to look at you and say a serial killer has been living in your house."
The Cotes say they were never told about the home's history when they bought it.
“It’s stunning, shocking and surreal all at once,” said Laura.
The Cotes are now suing their realtor under California law, saying he failed to disclose their home's dark secret. The realtor denies any wrongdoing.
To find out whether some other homes are potentially hiding a heinous secret, Inside Edition’s Lisa Guerrero and a producer posed as potential buyers and visited homes with troubled pasts to see what information realtors might disclose.
One starter home in Corbin, Kentucky, might look quaint, but it was actually the scene of a triple murder; a teenager killed his mom, dad and kid sister at the house.
According to police, each one of the victims was shot several times in the head as they walked through the front door. The killer used a pillow to cover their faces and muffle the sound of gunfire.
A local realtor gave a tour of the property.
“I like it," an Inside Edition producer told her. "It’s nice. Anything else I need to know?"
“Not that I know of,” she responded.
Guerrero asked her: “I’d like to know why you didn’t disclose the fact that there was a triple murder here?"
“I didn't know," she responded. "I had no idea. I'm saying I never heard of it, honestly."
In Kentucky, like in many states, a realtor is not required to disclose if a murder or suicide took place in a home they are selling.
A house we visited in Westfield, New Jersey, is known as “The Watcher” house.
It made headlines across the country after an anonymous letter was sent to the homeowners in 2015 with a chilling message: “I am The Watcher and have been in control of the house for the better part of two decades now. My grandfather watched the house in the 1920s and my father watched it in the 1960s. It is now my time.”
In New Jersey, brokers are not required to disclose if a murder took place in a house that's for sale. Nor are they obligated to say whether there's a "stigma" associated with a house, like the existence of “The Watcher.”
The realtor who showed the home to Inside Edition never brought up “The Watcher.”
“Anything else important that we should know about the place?” our producer asked.
“Not that I can recall,” said the realtor.
Guerrero later asked: “I’m really interested in knowing why you didn’t disclose to me that this house was the target of a notorious stalker.”
“I’ve heard about this Watcher. I never knew this was the house. I honestly never knew that,” the realtor said.
Randall Bell, a real estate expert, says regardless of the law, realtors should inform homeowners if they do know about a home's dark past.
“I believe that all brokers and agents should be ethical and I think they should tell the truth," he said, "and telling the truth means you don't conceal things that would obviously be important to a perspective buyer."
If the realtor doesn't tell you about a home’s notorious past, you can visit DiedInHouse.com. For a small fee, the website will tell you your house was once a crime scene.
Statement from owner of “The Watcher” house:
The owner of “The Watcher House” told Inside Edition he wants prospective buyers to be aware of the details of the "Watcher" before they consider buying the house. He says that he was not provided that information when he bought the house and is therefore suing the prior owners. He also told us that he has instructed his realtor to disclose the information about the “Watcher” when they meet with potential buyers. The realtor in our report was not hired by, and does not represent, the owner of “The Watcher House.”
In addition, the owner says he had placed a written document in the kitchen of the house disclosing the details of the “Watcher.” That document reads in part:
“Prospective Buyers have received this addendum to advise them of ‘The Watcher’s letters.’ These letters have been written by an individual who identifies himself as the home’s ‘Watcher.’ The Sellers…have no knowledge as to who wrote the letters. There is currently a lawsuit pending against the prior property owners for failure to disclose information regarding the ‘Watcher.’”
Inside Edition did not see and was never shown this disclosure by the realtor who showed us the home.